Two Syrians walk along a fence near the Turkish-Syrian border in Gaziantep province, Turkey, November 30, 2016. Syrians who arrived in Turkey since late 2017 have been unable to register for temporary protection and receive basic services.

© 2016 Umit Bektas/Reuters
(Istanbul) – Turkish authorities in Istanbul and nine provinces on or near the Syrian border have stopped registering all but a handful of recently arrived Syrian asylum seekers. The suspension is leading to unlawful deportations, coerced returns to Syria, and the denial of health care and education.

The European Commission has recently praised Turkey’s asylum system and plans to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 migration deal which includes support for refugees in Turkey. European Union institutions and governments have stayed publicly silent on the suspension and other refugee abuses committed by Turkey, suggesting their primary concern is to halt the movement of asylum seekers and migrants from Turkey to the EU.

“While the EU supports Turkey to deter asylum seekers from reaching Europe, it’s turning a blind eye to Turkey’s latest steps to block and discourage people fleeing Syria,” said Gerry Simpson, associate refugee program director at Human Rights Watch. “But forcing Syrians who manage to get past Turkey’s border guards to live in legal limbo only risks driving them underground and onward to the EU.”

Syrian refugees queue for food aid in Gaziantep, Turkey on May 20, 2016. Turkey’s suspension of Syrian refugee registration blocks them from receiving such aid.

© 2016 Kyodo/ AP Images
The suspension of registration is Turkey’s latest effort to deny new asylum seekers protection. Over the past three years, Turkey has sealed off its border with Syria, while Turkish border guards continue to carry out mass summary pushbacks and to kill and injure Syrians as they try to cross.

Between early 2011 and the end of May 2018, Turkey had registered almost 3.6 million Syrians, making it the world’s largest refugee hosting country. That generosity does not absolve it, or its international partners, of the duty to help newly arrived asylum seekers, Human Rights Watch said. 

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrians in Turkey’s Hatay province about their attempts to register for a temporary protection permit in Hatay, Gaziantep, and Istanbul provinces. A permit protects Syrians from arrest and the risk of deportation. It also entitles them to get health care and education, to work, and to seek social assistance, including the EU-funded Emergency Social Safety Net for the most vulnerable Syrians.

Syrians said Turkish police deported them in groups of up to 20 people for not having a permit and that hospitals and schools refused to take them in without permits. Some said they returned to Syria so they, or their relatives, could get urgent medical care. Others said they decided to return to Syria because only some family members had been able to register. All said, they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and severely restricted their movement to avoid the police.

Turkey is bound by the international customary law rule of nonrefoulement, which prohibits the return of anyone in any manner whatsoever to a place where they would face a real risk of persecution, torture or other ill-treatment, or a threat to life. This includes asylum seekers, who are entitled to have their claims fairly adjudicated and not be summarily returned to places where they fear harm. Turkey may not coerce people into returning to places where they face harm by denying them legal status or access to essential services.

On October 30, 2017, the Hatay governor’s office said that to discourage smugglers from helping Syrians enter Turkey through Hatay, the province would no longer register newly arriving Syrians for temporary protection permits. In early February 2018, Turkey’s Interior Ministry said Istanbul province would also no longer register Syrians.

Eight other provinces on or near the Syrian border have also suspended registration for newly arriving Syrians since late 2017 or early 2018, according to three agencies working closely with Syrian refugees, as well as a European Commission official and a Turkish public official who previously worked on migration issues. The provinces are Adana, Gaziantep, Kahramanmaraş, Kilis, Mardin, Mersin, Osmaniye, and Şanlıurfa.

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© 2018 DigitalGlobe and © 2018 Human Rights Watch

Since late August 2015, only registered Syrians who obtain a special travel permit have been allowed to travel within Turkey. In practice, the vast majority of Syrian asylum seekers enter Turkey irregularly through the few remaining gaps in Turkey’s border wall in Hatay province. Blocked from registering there, they are unable to lawfully leave Hatay province and travel to other provinces where registration has not been closed. This forces them to live illegally in Hatay province, or to use smugglers to reach other parts of Turkey, risking arrest and deportation.

According to three confidential sources, Turkey has rejected proposals for a new system that would allow Syrians arriving in Hatay, and to a far lesser extent in other border provinces, to register in other parts of Turkey where fewer refugees live.

Refugee agencies told Human Rights Watch that Turkey’s strict controls on international and local refugee agencies prevent them from finding and helping unregistered Syrians. This lack of aid agency monitoring means that there are no statistics or estimates on the numbers of Syrians denied registration, deported, or refused urgently needed services.

In response to a June 13 letter presenting the Human Rights Watch findings, the migration authorities in Ankara denied that any of the country’s 81 provinces, including Hatay and Istanbul, had suspended registration of Syrians. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) told Human Rights Watch that as of mid-May, the authorities had reassured them that registration of Syrians was ongoing, including in Hatay and Istanbul. Other aid agencies that support refugees say that the authorities in the 10 provinces have only continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension, and to register urgent medical cases referred from Syria and babies born to registered Syrians in Turkey. Two refugee aid agencies also said that in some cases they have managed to convince the authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye provinces to register particularly vulnerable unregistered Syrians.

In early 2018, the authorities in Hatay opened a new registration center in Antakya. Representatives of three aid agencies and two Turkish security personnel working in Antakya said the center is exclusively for unregistered Syrians to request help to return to Syria, while registered Syrians can request help to return at other migration authority-run centers.

Turkey does not allow any independent monitoring of whether unregistered Syrians signing up for return are in fact returning voluntarily or whether they are effectively being coerced. In contrast, Turkey does allow independent monitoring of some registered Syrians’ decision to return to Syria.

Turkey should protect the basic rights of all newly arriving Syrians, regardless of registration status, and register those denied registration since late 2017. The European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should support Turkey to register and protect Syrians and press Turkey to allow all agencies working for refugees to freely assist and help protect all Syrians, including all unregistered Syrians.

“Unregistered Syrians in Turkey may be conveniently out of sight, but they shouldn’t be out of mind,” Simpson said. “EU states and the commission should speak up and support all Syrians in Turkey, not just those who got in before Turkey started driving them underground.”

For more details about Turkey’s suspension of Syrian asylum seeker registration, please see below.

Asylum Seeker Registration

The first Syrian refugees fled to Turkey in early 2011 and in the subsequent three-and-a-half years, Turkey adopted an ad hoc approach to their registration, without conferring a clear legal status with related rights. Although Turkey ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 Protocol, the country maintains a geographical limitation that excludes anyone not originally from a European country from full refugee recognition. That means it does not fully grant asylum to people fleeing violence or persecution in Syria and any other non-European country.

In 2013, Turkey adopted its own legal framework on the protection of asylum seekers and refugees. In October 2014, Turkey also adopted a regulation under which it grants Syrians temporary protection. As of June 28, 2018, Turkey said it had registered 3,562,523 people under the regulation. Registered Syrians are entitled to assistance. Even though the regulation says Syrians who fail to register will not be deported to Syria and will only face an “administrative fine,” Human Rights Watch found that unregistered Syrians have been deported for not having temporary protection permits.

The Hatay governor’s office and the interior minister said registration has been suspended for newly arriving Syrians in Hatay and Istanbul. Refugee aid agencies and Syrians in Hatay’s main city, Antakya, told Human Rights Watch that police carried out mass arrests of Syrians in November and early December, just after registration was suspended.

Five sources told Human Rights Watch that since late 2017 and early 2018, migration authorities in eight other border provinces followed suit and turned away all newly arriving Syrians seeking registration.

As of June 28, seven of the provinces that suspended registration were in the top 10 provinces hosting Syrians: Adana, Gaziantep, Hatay, Istanbul, Kilis, Mersin, and Şanlıurfa. Together they were sheltering 2,422,804 registered Syrians, or 68 percent of the total in Turkey. The other three – Kahramanmaraş, Mardin, and Osmaniye – were sheltering 235,549, or just under seven percent.

Aid agencies say that, in practice, the authorities in affected provinces continued to process Syrians pre-registered at the time of the suspension and to register people with urgent medical needs referred from Syria. They also continued to register babies born to registerekad Syrians in Turkey, an estimated 306 each day. Agencies with first-hand knowledge of the suspension of registration in the 10 provinces say the registration of these Syrians may explain the claim authorities made to Human Rights Watch that eight of the provinces on or near the border registered a total of 116,059 Syrians between November 1 and June 20.

One refugee aid agency with close knowledge of registration procedures in all of Turkey’s provinces told Human Rights Watch that in a few exceptional cases, authorities in Hatay and Osmaniye province have registered children in urgent need of medical care, together with one caregiver. Another refugee assistance agency that sometimes deals with unregistered Syrians said that between late 2017 and late April 2018, it had convinced the Hatay authorities to register a few dozen newly arrived Syrians on an exceptional basis because they had specific needs, but that even then it was a “headache” to get them through police checkpoints to registration offices. Agencies estimate that as of mid-May, the total number of such vulnerable cases of unregistered Syrians whom the authorities have registered on an exceptional basis was in the low hundreds.

Turkey’s travel permit system for registered Syrians prohibits unregistered Syrians from traveling from border provinces to register elsewhere. Seven Syrians told Human Rights Watch they paid smugglers to drive them from Antakya, in Hatay province, to Istanbul to register. But security officials at migration authority offices in Istanbul told them registration had been suspended for newly arriving Syrians.

UNHCR and some diplomats in Turkey told Human Rights Watch they have been encouraging Turkey’s Directorate General for Migration Management to adopt a referral system under which authorities in Hatay, or other border provinces where Syrians first arrive, would pre-register Syrians and then refer them to other provinces where fewer Syrians live to register. Some EU member states have proposed that if such a system were to be adopted, the EU should help support job-creation for Syrians and Turkish citizens in the provinces to which Syrians are referred. But all attempts to convince Turkey to set up a referral system have failed.

Consequences of Suspended Registration

In mid-May 2018, Human Rights Watch interviewed 32 Syrian asylum seekers in Antakya, the capital of Hatay Province, and the first city most Syrians reach after being smuggled across the closed Turkish border. They said the authorities in Antakya, the nearby town of Reyhanli, and in Gaziantep province had refused to register them during the first few months of 2018. They also described how not having a temporary protection permit – or “kimlik,” as it is popularly called (a Turkish shorthand for identification card) – had affected them. Human Rights Watch explained the purpose of the interviews, gave assurances of anonymity, and obtained interviewees’ consent to describe their experiences.

All said they were turned away from registration offices at least twice. Only three said they managed to register after brokers bribed registration officials between US$300 and $500.

Most said officials simply said “no more kimliks here” or “no one gets a kimlik” and told them to leave. Two said they also tried to register in Gaziantep in April, but that saw a sign on the office that said “no kimliks.”

Four said that only some members of their family had been registered, leaving the rest in legal limbo and that as a result, the entire family was contemplating returning to Syria. One man said his sick wife was given permission to enter Turkey for emergency medical treatment in Antakya, and was allowed to register there, together with their newborn baby. When he and their five other children, aged 6 to 14, managed to enter Turkey and tried to register in Antakya, they were turned away.

Three Syrians said that Turkish police had previously summarily deported them to Syria for not having a temporary protection permit. One, a 22-year-old man from Aleppo governorate, said he entered Turkey in early April and was refused registration in Antakya. In early May, he said, police stopped him at about 8 a.m. near the Antakya bus station and asked for his permit. When he said he tried to register, but had been turned away, the police drove him to a local police station, recorded his personal details, and then drove him and about 20 other unregistered Syrians to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported them. He said 15 of the 20 told him they had been caught without temporary protection permits in Istanbul and the other five said they had just entered Turkey a few days earlier and were arrested after arriving at a smuggler’s house in Antakya. A few days later, he managed to return to Turkey with smugglers.

Another former deportee, a 28-year-old man from Idlib, said he and his brother entered Turkey together in January and were denied registration in Antakya. He said his brother traveled with a smuggler to Istanbul to find work there, but Turkish police arrested him on May 17 and the next day, took him to the Bab al-Hawa border crossing and deported him.

On May 22, Human Rights Watch spoke to a 31-year-old man from Hama who said the authorities in Antakya had arrested his brother a few hours earlier, were holding him in the new center for unregistered Syrians to sign up to return to Syria, and said they were about to deport him. Human Rights Watch alerted UNHCR, which intervened and prevented the deportation.

Human Rights Watch interviewed four Syrians at the newly established center for unregistered Syrians who wish to sign up for return to Syria. They decided to go back because their relatives had been denied urgent medical care, or because some family members who arrived after registration was suspended could not register.

Two Syrians said they heard from other Syrians in Antakya about many cases in which the wives of men who had been deported told Turkish authorities they planned to go back to Syria because they and their children could not survive alone in Turkey.

All of the 29 other unregistered Syrians interviewed said they lived in constant fear of arrest and deportation and said they heard of many cases involving the deportation of unregistered Syrians. Eight said they reduced their movements to a minimum, often staying at home for days at a time. A 17-year-old boy who said he never left his uncle’s house in Antakya out of fear of arrest said “this feels like prison.”

Three unregistered Syrians said they regularly use Syrian-owned driving services which use back roads to avoid police checkpoints or informal police stop-and-search patrols in Antakya.

Nine said they attempted to get medical treatment in clinics and hospitals in Antakya, but had been refused treatment because they were not registered. Four others said they did not even try to access medical care, because they heard others were turned away, and because they were afraid local hospitals would call the police to arrest them for not having a permit.

A 27-year-old woman from Idlib province seeking cancer treatment said two hospitals in Antakya refused to treat her because she did not have a permit.

A 34-year-old, eight months’ pregnant woman from Aleppo, with four children all born by caesarean section, said she was too afraid to go to the local hospital to ask for a checkup and prepare for her delivery, because she had been told hospitals turn away unregistered Syrians and was afraid of being arrested and returned to Syria.

Similarly, a 31-year-old woman whose entire family was refused registration in March said her husband was extremely sick with a serious lung condition, but he would not go to a hospital out of fear of being arrested and deported. She said he never left the house and lived in constant fear of being discovered.

A nongovernmental organization working with Syrians in Hatay province said that during the first few months of 2018, they heard of dozens of cases of Syrians in Antakya seeking emergency medical care, many of them pregnant women, who were turned away by hospitals because they had been denied registration.

Six Syrians interviewed by Human Rights Watch said their children were unable to go to school, because schools would only take registered Syrians.

Nowhere to Turn for Help

The Turkish authorities consider Syrians denied registration to be in the country unlawfully. Nongovernmental groups working with refugees said the government only allows them to work with lawfully present asylum seekers and refugees.

Six organizations working with refugees in Turkey’s provinces on the Syrian border – which asked to remain anonymous for the staff’s security – said Turkey strictly controls and monitors their work in various ways.

Some said they must get special permission to assess registered Syrians’ assistance needs or to visit registered Syrians’ homes, in some cases in the presence of staff from the Ministry of Family and Social Policies. The agencies said the rules are applied in an ad hoc and unpredictable way, depending on the local authorities, and they are never certain of what refugee outreach activities are allowed.

As a result, they said, they found it difficult to identify Syrians blocked from registration procedures, including the most vulnerable, for example those in urgent need of medical or other care. They also said the situation in Hatay province – through which almost all newly arriving Syrians using smugglers enter the country due to continued gaps in the border wall – is particularly sensitive.

Because of the restrictions imposed by the Turkish authorities, aid agencies said they cannot proactively identify unregistered Syrian refugees. At best, they can only react if they are made aware of unregistered Syrians who are seeking help, or if they come across them by chance. They said they sometimes raise the most vulnerable of such cases with the authorities in the hope that they will allow those in urgent need to register.

One agency working in the border areas said: “It’s very simple, we can’t just reach out to registered or unregistered Syrians. We need approval for everything and we’d never get approval to help unregistered Syrians.” Another agency worker said: “We have repeatedly asked the authorities for permission to do protection outreach work, but we’ve been refused every time.”

Agencies said their extremely limited contact with unregistered Syrians means they can neither estimate how many unregistered Syrians now live in Hatay and other provinces, nor the extent to which the registration suspension has led to deportation and denial of service access. EU member states and other donors funding Syrian refugee assistance and protection projects in Turkey therefore don’t know the extent to which Turkey’s registration suspension is excluding Syrians from receiving help.

European Union Remains Silent

EU member states and the European Commission have remained publicly silent on Turkey’s registration suspension, as they have on Turkey’s long-standing abuses against Syrian asylum seekers at the border.

Turkey’s suspension of registration could drive many Syrians underground and onward to the EU, or coerce them into going back to Syria. The suspension, Turkey’s ongoing border abuses, and its recent abuses against Afghan asylum seekers means that any attempts to return Syrians from Greece to Turkey is also likely to be met with significant resistance by lawyers challenging return attempts on the grounds that Turkey is not a safe third country to which to return asylum seekers.

On April 17, the European Commission released its latest update on whether Turkey is meeting the EU’s criteria for becoming an EU member state. As part of its assessment of Turkey’s asylum system, the commission said: “There have been reports of alleged expulsions, returns and deportations of Syrian nationals, in contradiction of the non-refoulement principle,” without going into any further details or citing the sources.

In March, the European Commission promised to release the second batch of €3 billion under its March 2016 deal with Turkey. Under the deal, the EU maintains that Turkey is a safe country to which to return Syrian asylum seekers. In fact, Turkey does not meet the EU safe third country criteria.

Recommendations

Turkey should resume temporary protection registration for all newly arriving Syrians and register those denied access to registration since late 2017. If necessary, Turkey should pre-register Syrians in its provinces on the Syrian border and require Syrians to move to, and live in, other provinces with fewer Syrians. In the meantime, Turkey should instruct all medical facilities to provide emergency medical treatment to any Syrian in need, regardless of registration status. Schools should also take in Syrian children pending their registration. All Turkish public officials should refer unregistered Syrians to the nearest registration center.

Turkey should also allow all refugee agencies working with Syrians to actively work to identify unregistered Syrians, help them access registration procedures, and raise with the authorities all cases of unregistered Syrians deported to Syria or denied access to health care and education.

To help ensure protection for Syrians in Turkey, the European Commission and EU member states with embassies in Turkey should press Turkey to resume registration of all newly arriving Syrians and guarantee their access to health care and education in line with existing policies. If Turkey requires help to resume registration, they should respond generously. They should also press Turkey to allow all agencies working with refugees to freely carry out protection monitoring work throughout Turkey to identify and assist unregistered Syrians and to publicly report on any abuses, including forced return to Syria, and denial of assistance.

Finally, the European Commission should proactively seek information and publicly report on credible accounts of killings, injuries, and mass deportations by Turkish security forces at the Syrian border, including in its regular reports on Turkey’s accession process and the European Agenda on Migration.

 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am
 

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

(Paris) – Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant children, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today. Hundreds of these young migrants find themselves homeless, often condemned to sleep on the streets of Paris.

The 57-page report, “‘Like a Lottery’: Arbitrary Treatment of Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris”, found that arbitrary practices can lead to unaccompanied children being erroneously considered adults, leaving then ineligible for emergency shelter and other protection given to children. Many youths who request protection from the child welfare system are turned away summarily and inaccurately, based on appearance alone. Others are rejected without written decisions after interviews lasting as little as five minutes, contrary to French regulations.
 

“These children have suffered through incredibly difficult and dangerous journeys, only to be deprived of the protection and care they need,” said Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director at Human Rights Watch. “Deeply flawed procedures mean that children may be arbitrarily turned away at the door of the evaluation office, denied protection after a short interview, or tied up in arduous court procedures and left in limbo for months.”

Human Rights Watch interviewed 49 unaccompanied children and reviewed age assessments in an additional 35 cases. Human Rights Watch also spoke with lawyers, health care providers, staff and volunteers of humanitarian agencies and informal associations, and government officials.

Youths who receive full interviews are often denied recognition as children if they lack identity documents, Human Rights Watch found. But international standards and French regulations establish that the primary method of establishing approximate age should be through interviews, recognizing that documents may be lost during arduous journeys.

Even those who have documents are frequently rejected. Child welfare authorities and judges question birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents despite the rule in French law that such documents are presumptively valid unless there are substantiated reasons to believe otherwise.

The review of case files found other invalid grounds for concluding that a person was an adult. Work in the home country or on the journey to Europe was frequently cited, even though millions of children around the world work, including in hazardous or harmful forms of labor. Child protection authorities also often cited the youth’s decision to travel without parents, though many thousands of children travel on their own to Europe each year.

In other cases, examiners told youths from French-speaking countries that they spoke French too well. Imrane O., from Côte d’Ivoire, who gave his age as 15, told Human Rights Watch that his examiner “said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions.”

In the cases studied, child protection authorities also frequently relied on subjective factors such as “bearing” or comportment. Some youths received adverse age assessments based in part on expressing irritation with repeated questioning or presenting their case forcefully, behaviors that can be exhibited at any age. Many more were simply told they had the bearing of an adult, without further explanation.

When children seek review of adverse decisions, some judges regularly order bone tests to determine their age. Medical bodies in France and elsewhere have repeatedly found that bone and other medical examinations are not a reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, and have called for ending their use.

The cumulative effect of arbitrary decision-making is that age assessments in Paris are “like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage,” an aid worker with the nongovernmental organization Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch.

The number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in Paris, as well as in France overall, has increased in recent years. France’s child welfare system took more than 25,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017, an increase of 92 percent from the previous year. Nearly half of unaccompanied children who seek protection from the child welfare system in France do so in Paris. In February 2018, when Human Rights Watch began this research, an estimated 400 unaccompanied children were “sleeping rough” (outside) in the French capital, , according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations. Current estimates are lower.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médécins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, depend on volunteers and cannot meet the need. In contrast, France has both the means and the obligation to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

French national and departmental authorities should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have well-founded doubts about an individual’s claim to be under 18, Human Rights Watch said. In such cases, they should take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. These steps should include interviews by professionals with the expertise to work with children, as international standards recommend.

France also should end the use of bone tests and similar discredited medical examinations.

“Instead of giving youths the benefit of the doubt, as they should, child protection services seem to be doing everything they can to exclude youths from the child care system,” Jeannerod said. “The French authorities should immediately put an end to arbitrary age decisions and provide sufficient resources to take care of and protect unaccompanied migrant children.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

(New York) – The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws.

Helal, 10, works as a brick maker at a brick kiln outside Kabul. He told Human Rights Watch that the brick mold is heavy and his hands hurt working with wet clay. Helal doesn’t go to school because he has to work. 

© 2016 Bethany Matta/Human Rights Watch

The 31-page report, “‘They Bear All the Pain’: Hazardous Child Labor in Afghanistan,” documents how child workers work dangerous jobs in Afghanistan’s carpet industry; as bonded labor in brick kilns; and as metal workers. They perform tasks that could result in illness, injury, or even death due to hazardous working conditions and poor enforcement of safety and health standards. Many children who work under those conditions combine the burdens of a job with school, or forego education altogether. Working compels many children in Afghanistan to leave school prematurely. Only half of children involved in child labor attend school. 

“Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table,” said Phelim Kine, deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.”

The Afghan government is failing to protect tens of thousands of children, some as young as 5, from hazardous conditions in the workplace, in violation of Afghanistan’s labor laws. 

The government has failed to enforce prohibitions against child labor in hazardous industries, and has stalled in its effort to overhaul its labor law to bring it into line with international standards, Human Rights Watch said. Government institutions responsible for enforcing the law often lack the capacity to inspect workplaces, with the result that children working in prohibited jobs go unnoticed and unprotected.

In 2014, the Afghan government published a list of 19 hazardous occupations prohibited for children. These jobs include carpet weaving, metal work, and brick making. While a lack of resources is an important factor in the persistence of child labor in hazardous industries, the Afghan government has also failed to enforce its labor laws through penalties for violators and a strategy to end exploitative labor conditions.

A brick kiln manager in Kabul told Human Rights Watch: “There are children here, starting from 10 years or 8 years of age to 15 or 16… They wake up at 3 in the morning and work until about evening… They complain of pain, but what can they do? The kids are here to make a living. They bear all the pain to do all the work.”

Extreme poverty often drives Afghan children into hazardous labor. Afghanistan remains one of the poorest countries in the world. Landlessness, illiteracy, high unemployment, and continuing armed conflict in much of the country are among the most important factors contributing to chronic poverty and, as a result, child labor.

A 13-year-old metal worker in Kabul said, “My fingers have been cut from the sharp edges of the metal and slammed by the hammer. My finger has also been caught in the trimming-beading machine. When your nail gets hit by a hammer or caught in the machine, it becomes black and eventually falls off.”

Thousands of Afghan children risk their health and safety every day to put food on the family table. The Afghan government needs to do a better job of protecting its children – and the country’s future – by enforcing the law prohibiting dangerous work for children.

Phelim Kine

Deputy Director, Asia Division

While work that is appropriate to a child’s age and under healthy and safe conditions can be beneficial to the child’s development and allow them to contribute to their family’s basic needs, work that interferes with a child’s education, or is likely to jeopardize their health or safety, is generally considered “child labor” and is prohibited under international law.

Although pilot projects extending community-based schools to reach vulnerable children have been promising, support for these schools is inadequate to the need. Eradicating child labor in Afghanistan is not feasible so long as extreme poverty continues, but the government and its donors can take steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

Those steps include increasing the number of labor inspectors to adequately cover the entire country; giving priority to monitoring hazardous sectors; and offering the Afghan government targeted technical assistance in devising and implementing policies, standards, and regulations against child labor. Both the government and its foreign donors should devote more resources to expanding educational support to all working children.

The government has a legal obligation under international law to take immediate action to eradicate hazardous child labor. Both Afghanistan and its foreign donors should take urgent steps to protect children from the risks associated with working in particularly dangerous or unhealthy conditions.

“When children are of legal age and work in safe conditions, they can help provide vital livelihood support for many Afghan families,” Kine said. “But the Afghan government has an obligation to enforce the laws that protect children in the workplace, and ensure that they neither have to sacrifice their education or safety as the price for supporting their families.”
 

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Zama Neff is the executive director of the children's rights division of Human Rights Watch. She also co-chairs the Global Coalition to Protect Education from Attack (GCPEA). Neff has conducted fact-finding investigations and is the author of reports and articles on a range of issues affecting children, including access to education, police violence, refugee protection, the worst forms of child labor, and discrimination against women and girls. She has published on op-ed pages in major international and US publications and speaks regularly to the media. During a sabbatical, she ran a protection monitoring team for the Norwegian Refugee Council in Sri Lanka. Before joining Human Rights Watch in 1999, Neff clerked for a US federal judge, advocated on behalf of immigrants and refugees in the US, and worked with community development and women's organizations in Honduras. She is a graduate of Davidson College and New York University School of Law.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

“Angela,” 20, walks with her son near her home after returning from school in Migori county, western Kenya. She is a Form 4 student at a girls-only school. Angela became pregnant when her trainee teacher offered to pay some of her primary school fees in return for sex. Her father tried to marry her off to suitors after she gave birth, but Angela’s mother fought against this and supported her return to school. She wants to go to college and study nursing.

© 2018 Smita Sharma for Human Rights Watch

Representatives of the Catholic church in Eastern Africa will meet in Addis Ababa later this week to discuss “vibrant diversity, equal dignity, and peaceful unity” in the region.

A good place to start would be to change the way the Church treats pregnant teenagers.

Last year, in Tanzania, leaders of the Catholic church openly supported the government’s ban against pregnant girls and teenage mothers from attending school. Archbishop Damian Denis Dally stated that allowing young mothers in school “is not part of African culture.”

In Zambia, Catholic schools – including those that are financially supported by the government – reject the government's school re-entry policy for young mothers and to allow pregnant girls to attend. They often force students who become teenage moms to transfer to other schools.

East African church leaders should take the opportunity this week to reaffirm their commitments under the African Union’s call to “Leave No Child Behind for Africa’s Development.” This should include a resounding commitment to abandon all policies or practices that discriminate against pregnant girls and young mothers.

These leaders should remember there are many complex reasons why teenage girls get pregnant – including a government’s failure to protect girls from sexual violence in and around schools. Pregnant girls often face discrimination, punishment, and exclusion. Pregnant students and teenage moms are often left behind when they most need support from their schools, families, and communities. Turning their backs on these girls will only worsen their situation.

In Burundi and Tanzania, governments have chosen to deny pregnant girls their right to education. But they are a minority. Ensuring teenage moms of school-going-age stay in school has broad support across Africa, including in Kenya, Malawi, and Zambia. Our report, Leave No Girl Behind in Africa, shows that many countries have adopted policies or legislation to protect a girl’s right to education regardless of pregnancy, motherhood, or marriage status. In doing so, a large group of countries have demonstrated that keeping all girls in school is the right thing to do.

Catholic leaders in East Africa should not support policies or practices that leave the most vulnerable girls in East Africa behind. That’s what “equal dignity” means.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Hundreds of Serbian children with disabilities face neglect and isolation in institutions that may lead to stunted intellectual, emotional, and physical development. 

As children across Serbia enjoy their summer break, for some children the next school year can’t start soon enough. It may be their first chance to get an education. The Serbian government formally pledged in June that all children with disabilities will be able to go to school.

Julija Čuković, who spent ten months of her life in an institution, at home in Kragujevac with her parents, where she enjoys to play with her younger sister, also in the photo. 

© 2016 Zoran Stamenković

This is no small step. Thousands of children with disabilities in Serbia are not enrolled in school. Now we are told that they will finally have a chance at an education, and an inclusive one at that, to learn side by side with their peers with and without disabilities, as well as to enjoy school trips and after-school activities.

In a June 8 letter to Human Rights Watch, education minister Mladen Sarcevic promised to ensure “access, inclusion and participation of every child, student, and adult in quality and inclusive education.”

We are encouraged that the education ministry is announcing concrete measures to ensure that children and youth with disabilities no longer miss out on education.

The key is to make this a reality.

When I started conducting research on the topic in Serbia in November 2015, I met many children with disabilities who were not in school. In fact we found that up to 50 percent of children with disabilities who lived with their families were not enrolled in school. The percentage is even higher – 70 percent, according to the government’s 2017 figures – for children with disabilities in residential institutions, where they may spend their entire lives separated from their families and communities.

Take for example the institution Kolevka (Cradle) in Subotica. When I visited in October 2017, I found that little had changed since my first visit two years earlier: only 22 children of 167 living there attended school. Only one child went to a mainstream school in the community. Other children went to a special school for children with disabilities.

The education minister’s letter promises that children who live in institutions will also be enrolled in schools in the 2018-2019 school year. The ministry developed a targeted action plan to address the situation in Kolevka, which has the highest percentage of children out of school among these institutions, with the aim to include these children as well.

In 2015, I also met hundreds of young people with disabilities who were between the ages of 18 and 26, and who live in institutions. The majority of them have not spent one day in school. For example, none of the 69 young people with disabilities in the Stamnica Home for children and adults with disabilities in eastern Serbia were enrolled in any formal education when I met them.

“We put the television on or they spend their time in the workshop [drawing or learning life skills],” a caregiver working in the institution told me. Miroslav, then a 17-year-old boy with physical and intellectual disabilities, told me, “I used to go to school, but since I arrived here seven or eight years ago, I stopped.”

The ministry has also promised to include these young adults in their education programs, helping to bridge the gap of years of missed education when they were younger. Officials have already identified cases of good practices of inclusion in Serbia with the aim of extending those kinds of opportunities to youth who have not received an education.

Serbia should carry out its law on education from 2013, which prohibits discrimination against people with disabilities in access to education and sets minimum inclusive education standards. The government should also step up its efforts and adopt by September the national Action plan for inclusive education 2016-2020. The Action plan provides concrete measures that the government, schools, and communities need to take to ensure that children with disabilities attend mainstream schools. Two years have passed since the action plan was announced, and Serbia should move ahead without delay to carry it out to ensure that children with disabilities are included when school opens this September.

Inclusion is not just about placing children with disabilities in classrooms with children without disabilities. It’s about giving all children the education they are entitled to. It’s about individual education plans, a diverse student body, accessible school buildings, and teachers trained to adapt to different learning abilities and styles.

The ministry should ensure children and adults with disabilities go to schools in their communities, not special schools exclusively for children with disabilities. Children are isolated in these schools and rarely have the chance to interact with children without disabilities to learn important life skills in a real-world environment.

Denying children with disabilities the chance to go to an inclusive school is a denial of a basic right and of the chance for children with and without disabilities not only to learn together but to develop friendships, relationships, and mutual respect.

At the end of the day, all students win and will have one more reason to celebrate the start of the school year.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

The Indian government’s plan to develop a national registry of sexual offenders is raising a slew of concerns, from data breaches to violations of privacy protections, including for individuals who were never convicted of a sexual offense.

Schoolgirls participate in a protest rally against the rape of two teenage girls in Chatra and Pakur districts of Jharkhand state, in Ranchi, India May 8, 2018.

© 2018 Reuters

The proposed national database – the government issued a call for bids in May – will store the name, photo, fingerprints, and personal details of all arrested, charged, and convicted of sexual offenses, including children. The information on convicted offenders will be public while law enforcement agencies will have access to the rest. It will categorize the individuals as “low,” “moderate,” or “high risk.”

Whether a person gets added to the sex registry can depend on laws that are archaic and open to misuse to arbitrarily classify suspects.

Those deemed “low danger” and “not likely to engage in criminal sexual conduct” will include everyone arrested, charged, and convicted of “Technical Rape,” a term often used by law enforcement to describe consensual sexual activity involving a girl under 18 years old. This means a boy who has consensual sex could be recorded in the database if someone, including the parents of the girl, filed criminal charges. This tier would also include section 377 of the Indian Penal Code, which criminalizes adult consensual same-sex relations, whose constitutionality is currently before the Supreme Court.

The record on those deemed “a moderate danger” would include those arrested, charged, or convicted under sections 67 and 67A of the Information Technology Act, which criminalize the publication and distribution of obscene and sexually explicit material, vague legal provisions that are repeatedly misused by police.

If the rape or sexual assault victim is under 12 years of age, an arrested, charged, or convicted offender will be categorized as “serious danger” likely to continue to “engage in criminal sexual conduct.”

A data breach or even rumors of possible inclusion in the registry is especially dangerous at a time when vigilante violence is on the rise. At least 24 people have been killed across India over rumors of kidnapping children in the past six months, while several have been attacked for inter-religious or inter-caste consensual relationships. This has been a problem elsewhere: in the United States there have been several instances of vigilante violence, including killings, of sex offenders listed in public registries, and in the UK in 2001 when a newspaper published details of convicted sexual offenders.

There is no silver bullet that can fix the complex problem of sexual violence in India. But the government should focus on supporting sexual violence survivors to ensure they can report crimes and receive justice without being stigmatized and threatened, and ensuring a system that provides them protection, legal aid, and adequate medical care. A poorly designed registry with inadequate safeguards will do little to advance change.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A library worker indexes periodicals at the Hong Kong Central Library May 14, 2001. In 2018, Hong Kong authorities made a decision to place 10 children's books with LGBT themes in the "closed stacks" of public libraries. 

©2001 Reuters/Bobby Yip

Hong Kong authorities should immediately reverse a decision to place 10 children’s books with LGBT themes in the “closed stacks” of public libraries, Human Rights Watch said today in a letter to Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Bureau. One of the books, And Tango Makes Three, is a children’s book based on a true story about two male penguins who hatch an egg and raise a youngster.

But in an important judgment on same-sex relationships, Hong Kong’s highest court ruled on July 4, 2018, that the government’s denial of a visa and associated benefits to the same-sex spouse of a legal resident amounted to discrimination.

“Instead of hiding a children’s book about a same-sex penguin couple, Hong Kong’s government should endorse nondiscrimination and put the books back on the open shelves,” said Boris Dittrich, LGBT rights advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “While Hong Kong’s highest court is taking down discriminatory walls, the government seems intent on maintaining them.”

In correspondence Human Rights Watch reviewed dated June 15, 2018, Hong Kong’s Home Affairs Department responded to a citizens’ group complaint regarding 10 children’s books that feature diverse families and gender expressions. The Home Affairs Department noted that “the contents of seven of these books are neutral, and do not promote or advocate homosexuality and same-sex marriage.” Nonetheless, authorities within the Home Affairs Department proceeded to order that all 10 books be placed in the “closed stacks,” meaning library visitors will need to request a librarian to access the books. 

Hiding books from free public access which feature lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) characters sends a stigmatizing message that LGBT content is inherently inappropriate. The government’s actions also deprive children of information that could be important to their development, health, and safety, Human Rights Watch said.

The decision indicates a government preference to exclude and discriminate against people on the basis of their sexual orientation or gender identity. Another of the books, Introducing Teddy, tells the story of a stuffed bear who identifies as a girl and wants to be called Tilly instead of Thomas. Article 13 of the Convention on the Rights of the Child says, “The child shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds.”

“LGBT children, who are subject to disproportionate rates of bullying and often experience feelings of isolation and alienation, need reliable, accurate, and affirming information,” Dittrich said. “The Hong Kong government should be working to create a climate of inclusion and tolerance for children and adults – not exclusion and stigma.”

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A demonstrator attends a rally outside the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, Belgium, October 5, 2016.

© 2016 Reuters

A new policy in Afghanistan promises to bar government health workers from engaging in the abusive practice of forcing women and girls to undergo invasive and medically meaningless vaginal and anal exams to determine whether they are “virgins.” The policy was announced by the Ministry of Public Health in July.

“Virginity examinations” are a routine part of criminal proceedings in Afghanistan. When women or girls are accused of “moral crimes” such as sex outside of marriage, police, prosecutors, and judges regularly send them to government doctors. After examining them, the doctors submit reports reaching conclusions about whether they are “virgins,” also often drawing more detailed – and often damning – conclusions about their sexual histories. These reports are used in court as evidence and have led to long prison terms for many women.

These examinations are invasive, humiliating, conducted without meaningful – or sometimes any – consent, and can constitute sexual assault. There is also another problem: they are scientifically invalid.

Many people mistakenly believe that virginity can be determined because the hymen is broken when a woman or girl has sexual intercourse for the first time. This is simply not true. Some girls are born without a hymen. Hymens often break during daily non-sexual activities, and some hymens remain intact after sexual intercourse. The World Health Organization has said virginity exams have no scientific validity and that health workers should never conduct them.

Ending “virginity exams” in Afghanistan will take genuine political will by the Afghan government – something too often absent in the past. An earlier order by President Ashraf Ghani to cease the exams was widely ignored. For change to happen, health workers need to be obligated to comply, and police, prosecutors, and judges will have to accept that exams will not be conducted and the reports will not be available as evidence.

Ending “virginity exams” should be part of broader reform regarding the treatment of women in the justice system. The government should decriminalize consensual sex between adults and ensure that the justice system distinguishes between consensual sex and rape. Too often in Afghanistan, rape victims are treated as criminals. The 2009 Law on the Elimination of Violence Against Women was designed to protect women, but has largely been a broken promise.

Wholesale reform is needed. But ending “virginity exams” would be a good start.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A view of a soccer practice of school girls in Villa Ingenio, El Alto outskirts in La Paz, Bolivia, June 1, 2018. © 2018 Reuters
 

The global campaign to insulate schools and students from the ravages of war gained momentum today with a string of four new endorsements of the Safe Schools Declaration. The announcements by Djibouti, Macedonia, San Marino, and Peru during the United Nations Security Council open debate on children and armed conflict brings to 79 the number of countries supporting the declaration, a political commitment by countries to do more to protect students, teachers, and schools during times of war.

Peru’s endorsement is a particular game changer. Now, the majority of current Security Council members have committed to the declaration’s commonsense steps for alleviating the negative consequences of war on education.

Peru is also the 12th Latin American country to join. But Bolivia, the other Latin American country on the Security Council, has not endorsed the declaration.

This runs counter to Bolivia’s historic role in advancing protections for children during war. Following the Second World War, Bolivia’s Red Cross convened a group of 15 experts, including teachers and health professionals, to better protect children during wartime. They proposed to draft an international treaty that for the first time would ban the use of child soldiers, entitle children affected by conflict to an education, and establish special protected zones for facilities used exclusively for the welfare of children, to the exclusion of any military use.

The Bolivian Red Cross’ proposal received insufficient global support to advance, but its ideals gained traction. The 1949 Geneva Conventions stated that warring parties had a duty to facilitate the work of institutions devoted to the care and education of children. A global ban on child soldiers was eventually realized in 1977 when the use of children under 15 in armed conflict became internationally recognized as a war crime.

But the idea that facilities such as schools should be protected from military use received little international attention until 2015, when the Safe Schools Declaration proposed that countries should refrain from using schools for military purposes, such as converting them into military bases and barracks.

Nearly 80 countries now support that ideal and have made a commitment to making schools safer for children around the world. Bolivia should follow up its pioneering work on protecting children during armed conflict and be the next to join this community.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

 

Summary

On a typical night, some 200 or more unaccompanied migrant children sleep on the streets of Paris. In large part, these children are homeless as a consequence of arbitrary procedures and inordinate delays in determining that they are under age 18, the first step to entry into the child protection system.

The French Red Cross does age assessments for unaccompanied children in Paris, delegated to do so by the department of Paris (a department is a local administrative division of France), and it has established an evaluation facility (Dispositif d’evaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers, DEMIE) for this purpose. But many children who seek legal recognition of their age report that they are turned away at the door by security guards. Others go through a short interview of approximately five minutes followed by a summary verbal denial. This treatment falls short of what is required by French law, violates international standards, and means that those who are turned away must fend for themselves or seek assistance from nongovernmental organizations to find shelter, food, and other basic necessities.

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

Those who are fortunate enough to receive full interviews receive a formal decision from the Paris child welfare agency, the Directorate for Social Action, Children, and Health (Direction de l’action sociale, de l’enfance et de la santé, DASES), based on the DEMIE’s evaluation. They are often rejected if they do not have identity documents, even though international standards and French regulations note that documents—which may be lost during arduous journeys—are not required and that approximate age can be determined through questioning. But those who do have documents are also frequently rejected—child welfare authorities and French courts regularly question the validity of birth certificates, passports, and other identity documents, sometimes even when they have been authenticated by embassies.

Case files also reveal other arbitrary grounds on which child welfare authorities have decided that an individual is an adult and thus disqualified from the child protection system. In cases examined by Human Rights Watch, these include:

  • Giving accounts that are too detailed—which examiners assess to be a sign of maturity.
  • Giving accounts deemed imprecise, particularly if examiners find minor errors in dates.
  • Travelling unaccompanied, even though many thousands of children travel on their own each year to France and other countries.
  • Working, whether in home countries or at some point on the journey to France, even though work by teenagers is common and, for those travelling alone, often essential for their survival.

If they are not summarily turned away but are instead provided a written determination, children can seek review of negative age assessments in the juvenile courts. But some judges who review age assessments order bone tests and other medical examinations to establish age, even though such tests have been criticised as unreliable by medical bodies in France and elsewhere.

In addition, review by the courts can take months, with no emergency shelter or other assistance during this time. Moussa H., who said he was 15 years old and from Côte d’Ivoire, had been awaiting a decision from the judge for six weeks when Human Rights Watch spoke to him in February 2018. “In the meantime, I don’t have food, a place to sleep, and I don’t go to school,” he told Human Rights Watch.

Protracted uncertainty takes a toll on children. “This situation is difficult for us. There is a lot of stress, and I don’t know any way to make it better. I have no regular lodging, no stability, no security. There’s nobody who is looking out for me,” Azad R., a 16-year-old Afghan boy, said, telling us that he had cut himself as a way of coping with the stress he faced.

Delays in formal recognition as children can also mean loss of legal status upon majority because the fact and timing of being taken into care by the child welfare system affect eligibility for residence permits and French nationality. Children who are taken into care before the age of 16 are eligible at age 18 for residence permits, and those taken into care after age 16 may be able to obtain student or work permits when they turn 18. If they are taken into care before the age of 15, they can request French nationality at age 18.

The treatment of many unaccompanied minors in Paris seeking confirmation of their status as a child is arbitrary, denies children a fair hearing, and fails to uphold the obligation to prioritize the best interest of the child. As a result, their right to live with dignity and their rights as children to special protection and assistance, among other human rights, are undermined or violated. “I’ve spent many nights on the street. I didn’t expect this. It’s incredible to have to sleep on the street in a country like France. If you’re unaccompanied, you’re abandoned,” 16-year-old Souleymane G., a Guinean boy, told Human Rights Watch.

Ordinary citizens, on their own and working in groups, have stepped in to address some of these children’s needs, providing food and other services, organizing football clubs, improvisational theatre, and other activities, and in some cases opening their homes to give children a place to stay for a night or two, or even longer. “The people here help more than the government. There are people here with big hearts,” said Ramatoulaye S., a 17-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire.

But these laudable efforts, along with services provided by nongovernmental groups such as Médecins sans Frontières and Utopia 56, cannot meet the need and depend on voluntary action. In contrast, the French state has both the means and the obligation, under domestic law and its international commitments, to provide appropriate care and protection to all children within French territory, regardless of migration status.

Proposed revisions to France’s immigration and asylum laws do not address these shortcomings in the treatment of unaccompanied migrant children. Nor would the legislative reform change policies that allow for the detention of migrant children who arrive in France with their families, a practice the European Court of Human Rights found to violate the prohibition on inhuman or degrading treatment in six separate cases between 2012 and 2016. (The government announced in mid-April that it would form a separate working group to examine this issue.)

To address the serious concerns identified in this report, France should ensure that age assessments are used only when authorities have serious doubts about an individual’s claim to be under the age of 18. In such cases, they can take appropriate steps to determine age and establish eligibility for services, bearing in mind that all age assessments will be estimates. Age assessments should seek to establish approximate age through interviews and review of documents, as recommended by international standards. Assessments should be undertaken with sensitivity by trained examiners. These procedures should afford the benefit of the doubt so that if there is a possibility that an individual is a child, that individual is treated as a child.

Human Rights Watch concludes that, in line with opinion of several French medical authorities who have repeatedly found that medical examinations are not reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, they should not be used for this purpose. Instead, France should end the use of bone tests and similar medical examinations as means to determine age.

 

Recommendations

To the French State

  • Ensure that departments have sufficient resources to carry out their child protection functions.

To the Child Protection Service (Aide sociale à l’enfance, ASE), the Paris Departmental Council (Conseil départemental), and the French Red Cross

  • Ensure that all those who are awaiting an evaluation from the Evaluation Facility for Unaccompanied Children (Dispositif d’evaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers, DEMIE) receive emergency shelter for the minimum period of five days or until the evaluation is completed, as required by article R.221-11 of the Code de l’action sociale et des familles. The period of emergency shelter should be extended to cover any period of appeal of an adverse age determination.
  • Issue and implement clear guidance to staff at the DEMIE that age assessments should follow the November 17, 2016, order of the Ministry of Justice. In particular:
    • DEMIE staff should not turn away individuals at the door on the basis of appearance alone.
    • Summary or “flash” interviews are not permitted.
    • All interviews should be conducted with particular expertise and care, in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.”
    • Birth certificates and other civil documents obtained abroad should be presumed valid in the absence of substantiated reason to believe they are not.
    • The absence of a photo or other biometric identifiers on a birth certificate or other civil documents should not be a basis for excluding those documents from consideration.
    • Every individual assessed by the DEMIE and found to be an adult should receive a written decision explaining the reasons for the decision.
  • Investigate reports of noncompliance by DEMIE staff with the order of November 17, 2016, and take appropriate measures to discipline noncompliance.

To the juvenile court (Tribunal des Enfants)

  • Judges should apply the presumption of validity of birth registration and other identity documents issued abroad, in line with article 47 of the Code civil.
  • In recognition of consistent guidance from medical authorities that bone tests and similar medical examinations are not reliable means of determining age, particularly for older adolescents, judges should not order or rely on these tests.
  • Judges should review negative age assessments without delay.

To the public prosecutor (procureur)

  • Appoint a legal representative (administrateur ad hoc) without delay whenever a person claiming to be an unaccompanied child seeks to submit an asylum claim to the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugies et apatrides, OFPRA).

To all department councils

  • Respect the finding of another department (an administrative division of France) that an individual is an unaccompanied child under the age of 18 and refrain from subjecting him or her to another age assessment upon his or her transfer under the system of “national allocation” (répartition nationale).

To the Government, the National Assembly, and the Senate

  • Amend the Code de I’action sociale et des familles and other legislation, as appropriate, to reflect the following:
    • Any age assessment should be a matter of last resort, to be used only where there are serious doubts about an individual’s declared age and where other approaches, including efforts to gather documentary evidence, have failed to establish an individual’s age.
    • Authorities should offer clear reasons in writing as to why an individual’s age is doubted before beginning an age assessment.
    • An end to the use of bone tests and other medical examinations for the purpose of age assessment, because of criticism by French and other medical authorities for their inherent unreliability.
    • Age assessment should afford the benefit of the doubt such that if there is a possibility that an individual is a child, he or she is treated as such.
  • Amend the Code de l’action sociale et des familles and other legislation, as appropriate, to ensure that the finding of one department that an individual is under the age of 18 cannot be challenged by another department.
  • Amend articles L.313-11 and L.313-15 of the Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile and article 21-12 of the Code civil to ensure that children are not penalized by delays in the age assessment process. For the purpose of eligibility for residence permits and nationality upon reaching adulthood, children should be regarded as having been taken into care by the child welfare system (Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance, ASE) as of the day they sought to be recognized as children at the DEMIE or at similar evaluation centers, regardless of how long the age assessment process takes.

 

Methodology

This report is based on 49 interviews with asylum seekers and migrants in Paris, all male, who identified themselves as children under the age of 18. The total comprised eighteen from the Republic of Guinea (often referred to as Guinea Conakry to distinguish it from Guinea-Bissau and Equatorial Guinea), twelve from Côte d’Ivoire, ten from Afghanistan, five from Mali, and one each from Bangladesh, the Comoros Islands, Niger, and Senegal. Four of these boys had been formally recognized as children at the time of our interview, two after evaluations by the French Red Cross and two after a juvenile judge reviewed their cases.

In addition, Human Rights Watch interviewed lawyers, health care providers, staff of humanitarian agencies, and volunteers who distribute food, assist with housing, or run activities for young asylum seekers and migrants in Paris. Human Rights Watch met with and shared our findings with the state authority that examines asylum claims, the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugies et apatrides, OFPRA); the child protection team at the Paris City Hall; officials with the French Defender of Rights (Défenseur des droits); and the French Red Cross. Human Rights Watch also reviewed case files, including negative age assessments issued by the Paris Directorate for Social Action, Children, and Health (Direction de l’action sociale, de l’enfance et de la santé, DASES) based on evaluations done by the French Red Cross at its Evaluation Facility for Unaccompanied Foreign Minors (Dispositif d’evaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers, DEMIE). Human Rights Watch also wrote to the French Red Cross and to DASES with requests for written comment on our findings.[1] The French Red Cross sent us a written reply.[2] DASES did not respond to our findings in writing but agreed to meet with us immediately before the publication of this report.

Human Rights Watch researchers conducted interviews in French and English, with the assistance of interpreters in a handful of cases in which children did not speak those languages. All interviews for this report took place from February to May 2018. The researchers explained to all interviewees the nature and purpose of our research, including our intent to publish a report with the information gathered. They informed each potential interviewee that they were under no obligation to speak with us, that Human Rights Watch does not provide humanitarian services or legal assistance, and that they could stop speaking with us or decline to answer any question with no adverse consequences. The researchers obtained oral consent for each interview. Interviewees did not receive material compensation for speaking with Human Rights Watch.

All names of children used in this report are pseudonyms. Human Rights Watch has also withheld the names and other identifying information of humanitarian workers who requested that we not publish this information.

In line with international standards, the term “child” refers to a person under the age of 18.[3] As the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child and other international authorities do, we use the term “unaccompanied children” in this report to refer to children “who have been separated from both parents and other relatives and are not being cared for by an adult who, by law or custom, is responsible for doing so.”[4] “Separated children” are those who are “separated from both parents, or from their previous legal or customary primary care-giver, but not necessarily from other relatives,”[5] meaning that they may be accompanied by other adult family members.

 

Unaccompanied Migrant Children in Paris

When Kamrul R., a 16-year-old boy from Bangladesh, arrived in Paris, he found an inexpensive hostel where he stayed for two nights. “Then my money was finished, so I stayed in the metro. Some people saw me and said, ‘What are you doing here?’ So I told them my whole situation. They asked me how old I was and gave me the address to go to in Couronnes,” he said, referring to the location of the reception and evaluation center run by the French Red Cross. He was scheduled for an age assessment and given emergency shelter for one week. At the end of the week, he received a letter notifying him that the Paris Directorate for Social Action, Children, and Health (Direction de l’action sociale, de l’enfance et de la santé, DASES) had determined that he was an adult. A nongovernmental aid group agreed to give him legal assistance. “My lawyer told me I had to take my case to the judge. I told her I had no place to stay. She told me I had to go to Porte de la Chapelle to ask Utopia [another aid group] for shelter. So then I came to Porte de la Chapelle. Utopia gave me a place for the night. I don’t stay in one place the whole time. Every night I go to Porte de la Chapelle, and a woman gives me a place to stay just for the night. It’s very hard for all of us, not only me. I am just walking on the streets during the day,” he told Human Rights Watch.[6]

It is not unusual for unaccompanied children to have to sleep on the streets in Paris, even in the winter. Youssouf T., a 15-year-old boy from Mali, told us he spent 15 nights on the streets when he arrived in Paris in December 2017.[7] Similarly, when Oumar W., a 17-year-old from Mali, arrived in Paris, he spent two nights on his own at the Gare de Lyon before he went to Porte de la Chapelle and foundassistance with shelter.[8] Seydou L., a 16-year-old boy from Mali, also spent several nights at the train station when he arrived in Paris in January 2018, sleeping under a blanket someone gave him.[9]

Some are fortunate enough to find assistance quickly. Moussa H., a 15-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire, told us that when he arrived at Gare de Lyon, “I didn’t know anybody. I was just there at the station alone, at 10:00 p.m. I went to the police and explained my problem. I told them I was a minor. They have me an address to go to. They told me how to take the metro to Jaurès. I asked people along the way, and they showed me where to change. I found an association that works with minors, and a woman took me to a hotel and also gave me some food.”[10] Safi D., a 16-year-old from Mali, said, “When I arrived in Paris, I found some other minors who took me to ADJIE [a nongovernmental organization that provides legal support for unaccompanied children]. They found a place for me to stay the night.”[11]

All of these boys eventually found places to stay through nongovernmental groups or individuals. But the need far outstrips these group’s limited resources.

As a result, 400 or more unaccompanied migrant children were sleeping on the streets of Paris each night in February 2018, according to an estimate by a group of lawyers who provide legal assistance to these children.[12] We heard similar estimates during the winter months from other nongovernmental groups that work with unaccompanied children.[13] Estimates for May and June 2018 were lower, in the range of 200.[14]

The number of unaccompanied migrant children has increased in recent years, in Paris as well as in France overall.[15] France’s child welfare system took more than 25,000 unaccompanied migrant children into care in 2017,[16] an increase of 92 percent from the previous year.[17] Nearly half of all unaccompanied migrant children who seek protection from the child welfare system do so in Paris.[18]

Some of these children stayed at an emergency shelter for adults in Porte de la Chapelle, known as the “Bubble” because of its inflatable roof, claiming that they were 18 to be able to enter.[19] The Bubble closed at the end of March 2018.[20]

Others have stayed in hostel rooms, with costs covered by Médecins sans Frontières or other groups. Volunteers have also opened their homes to young migrants, providing a place to sleep for a night or two and sometimes for longer periods.[21] 

The remainder find shelter where they can, often with adult migrants who camp out on the streets. Over 1,800 people, mostly adults, were sleeping in tents in and around La Villette, in northeastern Paris, at the end of March, a census by the group France Terre d’Asile found. Another 400 people, primarily Afghan, were sleeping in tents along the Canal Saint-Martin, near the Jaurès metro station.[22]

Children come on their own to Paris for a variety of reasons. All are seeking a better future, but the impetus for leaving their homes is not necessarily solely economic. Many of the children we spoke with had fled abusive family situations, particularly at the hands of stepparents or extended family members after the death of a parent. Others had been subjected to labor exploitation.

Some fled after they were targeted for persecution or feared harm. For example, 17-year-old Abdoulaye D. told us he left Guinea after a group of people destroyed his family’s home because they were politically opposed to his uncle, a local government official.[23] Joseph D., 16, also from Guinea, told us that his father had converted to Christianity; after his father’s death, he and the rest of his family were threatened with harm if they did not return to traditional beliefs.[24] Youssof T., a 15-year-old from Mali, left because of the presence of armed groups in the town where he lived; he explained to Human Rights Watch that he was afraid either the group or the government would assume he was associated with the other side.[25]

Access to Shelter and Other Social Services

Unaccompanied migrant children receive emergency shelter and access to other social services after assessment at a “reception and evaluation hub” (plateforme d’accueil et d’évaluation). In Paris, the hub is the Evaluation Facility for Unaccompanied Foreign Children (Dispositif d’évaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers, DEMIE), run by the French Red Cross. Other departments handle reception and evaluation differently: some contract with other agencies, such as France Terre d’Asile, for this purpose, others conduct initial evaluations themselves, and some send unaccompanied children directly to the child welfare service (Aide sociale à l’enfance, ASE).[26]

By law, any person stating that he or she is an unaccompanied child should receive emergency shelter pending an evaluation of the person’s age.[27] The evaluation should take the form of a “multidisciplinary” interview that includes questions about the youth’s family background, reasons for leaving the country of origin, and plans for the future.[28] A Red Cross official told us that the DEMIE may conduct a second interview if a more thorough evaluation is required,[29] and one youth told us he was interviewed twice before receiving a negative age assessment.[30] In practice, as discussed more fully in the following section, many youths are excluded from the protection of the child welfare system without a formal interview.

Referring to this period of emergency shelter, initially set at five days, Catherine Delanoë-Daoud, a lawyer who, together with a colleague, leads the Paris Bar’s initiative to address the needs of unaccompanied children, remarked:

The five days of accommodation theoretically granted by the DEMIE are very important, because it is not possible to do a good interview without the chance to get some rest. But often, the interview takes place immediately or after only one night of sleep.[31]

During the five-day period, the departmental council (or the agency it has designated) should evaluate the youth’s situation to confirm whether he or she is a child as well as his or her unaccompanied status.[32] The five-day period for the evaluation may be extended; if so, emergency shelter should continue until the evaluation is completed.[33] If the youth is found to be an unaccompanied child, he or she is placed under the care of the child welfare system.[34]

Those who are not found to be under the age of 18 as a result of this interview should receive a “reasoned decision” from departmental authorities.[35] They may seek review of adverse age assessments, a procedure before the juvenile judge that frequently takes months.[36]

An unaccompanied child who is placed in care will not necessarily stay in the department where he or she sought recognition as a minor; unaccompanied children recognized in Paris, for example, are often sent elsewhere in France once they are placed in the care of the child welfare system, a procedure known as “national allocation” (répartition nationale).[37] Of the 1,263 persons recognized as unaccompanied children in Paris in 2017, 924, or 73 percent, were placed in the care of child welfare authorities in other departments.[38]

Departmental authorities cover most of the costs of unaccompanied children’s care. In 2016, the Assembly of French Departments (Assemblée des Départements de France) estimated that the care of unaccompanied children cost 1 billion euros, with less than 10 percent covered by the national government. The government announced that it would set aside an additional 128 million euros in the 2018 budget to cover an expected increase in the number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving in France.[39] In May 2018, it reached an agreement with the Assembly of French Departments to provide additional funding for temporary shelter and age assessment of individuals who request placement in the child welfare system as unaccompanied migrant children, although the additional funding is relatively modest: 500 euros per youth evaluated along with support for accommodation and meals of 90 euros per day for 14 days, and 20 euros per day for the fifteenth through twenty-third day.[40] (Previously, the national government provided a flat amount of 250 euros per youth, intended to support the evaluation and five days of accommodation and meals.[41]) The government is also expected to issue a decision in the coming months on the respective responsibilities of departmental and national authorities.[42]

Perhaps because each department is responsible for most of the cost of caring for unaccompanied children, some departments seek reevaluation of age for some unaccompanied children sent to their care.[43]

Unaccompanied children do not need to apply for asylum in order to receive housing and other protection needs. Similarly, all children have the right to education, regardless of their migration status.[44] But formal recognition as a child is essential to have access to housing, education, and other services.

 

Arbitrary Age Assessment Procedures

[T]he vast majority of young people who come to the DEMIE are rejected on the basis of appearance, without the benefit of the multidisciplinary evaluation or the five days’ temporary emergency shelter required by the 2016 law and its implementing regulations for all “persons declaring themselves to be minors and temporarily or permanently deprived of the protection of their family.”
—Catherine Delanoë-Daoud and Isabelle Roth, heads of the Paris Bar initiative to address the needs of unaccompanied children, February 14, 2018

It’s like a lottery: sometimes you win, but most of the time you lose, even if you’re underage.
—Erick Deshors, a night manager for Utopia 56 at Porte de la Chapelle, May 24, 2018

In Paris, age assessments are done by the French Red Cross at its Evaluation Facility for Unaccompanied Foreign Children (Dispositif d’evaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers, DEMIE), with the formal decision taken by the Directorate for Social Action, Children, and Health (Direction de l’action sociale, de l’enfance et de la santé, DASES), the Paris child welfare agency.[45] Lawyers and humanitarian groups working with unaccompanied children report that those who seek recognition as children from the DEMIE are often turned away at the door by a DEMIE security guard based on appearance.

Alternatively, unaccompanied children may receive a “flash interview,” a brief series of questions followed by a summary verbal denial—a flawed process that does not comply with the procedures set forth in regulations.

In such cases they are given a leaflet with basic information on the services available to adults and may be told to go to the juvenile judge to submit an appeal—a disingenuous response, because they cannot appeal without a written decision.

Children who receive full interviews may face assessments that are seemingly capricious, without obvious basis in objective criteria, and that fail to apply international standards. For example, Human Rights Watch has reviewed cases in which youths were deemed adults simply because they did not have identity documents, or because they travelled on their own, or because they worked at some point during their journey. Accounts considered overly detailed were taken as evidence of maturity, seemingly without regard to the level of education a person reports. On the other hand, imprecise accounts, particularly errors in dates and inability to recall other details of experiences several years in the past, were apparently taken as indications that the individual was not telling the truth about his personal history, leading to the conclusion that he was not a child. Moreover, as described in the next section, birth records are often disregarded as unreliable, even when they are authenticated by courts in the country of origin or by consular officials.

Some judges who review disputed age assessments order bone tests and other medical examinations to establish age, even though such tests have such a wide margin of error for older adolescents that the National Consultative Committee on Ethics for Health and Life Sciences (Comité consultatif national d’éthique pour les sciences de la vie et de la santé), the National Academy of Medicine, and the High Council of Public Health (Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique), along with the French Defender of Rights, the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, recommend discontinuing their use.

As a consequence, unaccompanied children may face considerable delays in the age assessment process. For example, Mahamadou Z., 16, saw the judge in November 2017, who ordered validation of his documents. When we interviewed him in mid-February 2018, he was still waiting for a ruling.[46] Similarly, Kodoké C., a 17-year-old Guinean boy, told us in May 2018 that he had seen a judge in late November, with no word on when he would hear the outcome of his case.[47] In a third case, Abdoulaye D., a 17-year-old from Guinea, said, “It’s been eight months since I’ve been on the streets like this, waiting.”[48] Catherine Delanoë-Daoud and Isabelle Roth, lawyers who head the Paris Bar’s initiative to provide legal support to unaccompanied children, have seen cases that take as long as 12 to 14 months.[49] The French Defender of Rights heard of cases in which hearings were set 11 months after youths requested review or that were scheduled to take place after youths’ eighteenth birthday.[50]

The significant differences in material benefits and legal status afforded to child migrants as compared with adult migrants, described more fully in the following chapter, create incentives for young adults to misrepresent their age. When authorities have serious doubts about an individual’s claim to be under the age of 18, they can take appropriate steps to determine age and, accordingly, eligibility for children’s services. In such cases, they should take care to do so within a framework that considers a range of factors, including psychological, developmental, and cultural factors, and ensure that assessments are undertaken with skill and sensitivity. The procedures used should afford the benefit of the doubt “such that if there is a possibility that the individual is a child, s/he should be treated as such.”[51]

Children Turned Away at the Door

When Ibrahim M., a 17-year-old Guinean boy, went to the DEMIE in early 2017, the guard at the door turned him away, telling him to go to the “Bubble,” the center at Porte de la Chapelle for adult migrants, even though he said he was 17. The staff at the Bubble sent him back to the DEMIE when he told them his age. On his return, he said, the guard told him, “You’ve already been here; don’t come back.”[52]

Other children also recounted being turned away at the door to the DEMIE, and we heard from children and aid workers who witnessed others being turned away. In one such account, 17-year-old Ramatoulaye S., from Côte d’Ivoire, told us, “At the DEMIE, I saw people being refused directly, just like that, without being asked any questions. It hurt me a lot to see that. A man from the DEMIE told a youth, ‘You, get out, you, you’re not a kid!’ It was the first time this boy had come in. He [the official] is mean, he spoke a bit aggressively.”[53]

The French Defender of Rights noted the practice of summarily turning youths away (“refus guichet”) at the DEMIE in July 2016, concluding that such summary rejections could only be based on appearance and were more frequent during times when large numbers of youths sought recognition.[54]

MSF recorded nearly 160 summary rejections of this kind between early December 2017 and mid-February 2018.[55] When Human Rights Watch asked the French Red Cross about these reports, its national delegate for children and families replied that if people were turned away at the door, it was for a reason other than their apparent age.[56] In a subsequent written communication, he stated, “We have never refused a youth entry at the door.”[57]

Summary rejections of this kind are contrary to French regulations, which require a comprehensive social evaluation by trained staff and a written report detailing the basis for the decision.[58]

“Flash” Interviews

Of the children who made it through the door, many we interviewed told us that they were rejected after summary interviews at the DEMIE, rather than the full evaluation envisioned by French law. They did not receive a formal denial letter that would have informed them of the reasons for the denial and would also have allowed them to appeal the decision. Instead, DEMIE staff handed them a leaflet containing directions to the juvenile court and instructions on how to contact the emergency shelter system for adults. Such summary interviews are contrary to the applicable regulations, which call for a comprehensive social evaluation and written report.[59]

For example, when Moussa H., a 15-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire, went to the DEMIE, “They told me I would have to see a judge directly.” Asked how long the Red Cross officials at the DEMIE spent with him, he replied, “They asked my age, what country I was from, the name of my family. They gave me a paper and told me to go to the judge. They talked to me for five minutes.”[60]

We heard many such accounts. Azad R., a 16-year-old Afghan boy, told Human Rights Watch, “I went to the DEMIE. They just asked me some questions quickly. Then they gave me a paper with directions on it and told me I should go to the judge. The paper didn’t say anything special. It just told me where I could get meals and how I could reach the judge. There was nothing on it about my age.”[61]

Similarly, 16-year-old Dalir A., from Afghanistan, told us that the DEMIE gave him a negative age assessment in February 2018 after an interview of about 20 minutes. “They gave me a paper and told me to go to the judge. The paper just had addresses on it, in English,” he said.[62] Issa B., a 16-year-old boy from Mali, also said that he was rejected at the DEMIE without receiving a letter.[63] Youssouf T., a 15-year-old boy from Mali, said that officials at the DEMIE told him he was not under the age of 18 after a seven-minute interview, without giving him a written decision.[64] Sékou D. and Damany K., both 15, one from Côte d’Ivoire and the other from Guinea, told us they were rejected without written decisions in May 2018 after interviews that lasted two to three minutes each.[65]

These accounts are not unusual, we heard. “The approach is often, ‘You have no proof of age, so we cannot say you are a minor.’ But it is very difficult to prove a negative, to prove you are not an adult. Often the only proof is their own testimony,” Florian Guélard of Utopia 56 told Human Rights Watch. “It’s a kind of elimination, not an evaluation,” he added.[66]

Statistics provided by Paris City Hall officials to one group showed that of approximately 6,700 individuals seen at the DEMIE in 2017, about 45 percent received summary evaluations and rejections, often with no written decision.

When we asked Paris City Hall officials about these reports, they conceded that full interviews did not always take place. “In an ideal world, we would like to see two-hour interviews, but this is not possible,” they said, but they disputed accounts of five-minute interviews. “Generally our interviews wouldn’t last five minutes; they might take 30 minutes,” they told us.[67]

Children who follow the instructions of DEMIE staff find that the court will not take their cases without a written decision from the DEMIE. Souleymane G., a 16-year-old Guinean boy, said that after an interview of approximately half an hour at the DEMIE, “they gave me a paper with the address for the juvenile judge in Cité [the former location of the juvenile court]. They didn’t write the reasons why they rejected me. When I went to Cité, they told me I had to return to Couronnes [the location of the DEMIE] for another interview.”[68]

His experience is typical, humanitarian workers told us. “The official will tell the kid to go see the judge, without any formal notification. But the kid cannot see the judge if he doesn’t have the written results of the assessment. The kids end up going back and forth between the DEMIE and the court,” Florian Guélard of Utopia 56 told us.[69]

The French Red Cross official told us that short interviews of the kind described above were only possible in cases where a person had been seen before; in such cases, he said, it would still be possible to seek review of the decision before a judge. When we described cases in which judges refused to accept review without a written decision, the official said that the French Red Cross had instructed DEMIE staff in May 2018 that written decisions were mandatory.[70] Despite this positive step, we heard from youths and volunteers that DEMIE staff were still rejecting youths in late May after very short interviews and without written decisions.[71]

Mishandling of Interviews

Children who did receive full interviews reported that the experience was stressful and that they did not always understand what was being asked of them or why. Some children said they assumed the officials conducting the interviews were trying to keep them off balance—which would be contrary to the regulation requiring that interviews be conducted in a manner “characterized by neutrality and compassion.”[72]

For example, Joseph D., a 16-year-old from Guinea, told us, “There were many questions, so many questions. I didn’t know the answers to all of the questions they asked. I was panicking, trying to answer everything they were asking me. All the questions were really putting pressure on me.”[73]

“It was a bit hard, you have the impression they don’t believe you. You feel lost, on edge. He [the official] wanted to scare me,” said Ramatoulaye S., a 17-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire. He continued, “He asked me questions that I myself could not understand. For example, ‘Tell me the major neighborhoods of [the boy’s town]’ or ‘what is the trade in [the town] based on?’ I did not know how to answer, it was hard for me. And I don’t have a good memory for dates.”[74]

Asked about these accounts, the French Red Cross official wrote to Human Rights Watch, “The objective of the examiners is not to destabalize the youths but to collect their remarks in the most objective way possible.”[75]

If these accounts reflect the norm, the handling of age assessment interviews falls short of international standards, which call for such interviews to be conducted in a “safe” environment and a “fair manner,” in a way that is sensitive to the child’s age, gender, psychological maturity, and emotional state.[76]

Arbitrary Refusals

In our review of refusal letters issued by the Paris child welfare authorities on the basis of the DEMIE evaluation, we found that many gave reasons that appear to be subjective and arbitrary. In these cases, it also appeared that the decisions failed to afford the benefit of the doubt “such that if there is a possibility that the individual is a child, she or he should be treated as such,”[77] as required by international standards.

Some letters cited factors that interviewers did not appear to have raised in the interview. As one example, Kamrul R., 16, showed us a denial letter that based the rejection in part on the fact that his clothes were clean even though he had spent four days on the street. “They didn’t ask me about this in the interview. I spent two days in the metro, but also two days before that in a hotel that I paid for. In the morning before my interview, I took a shower—someone let me wash up at her house. They didn’t ask me at the interview about any of this,” the boy said.[78]

In other cases, the letters recited elements that youths told us were inaccurate. “They change what you say; they mix things up. Lots of minors complain about this, ” said Souleymane G., a 16-year-old boy from Guinea.[79] “On the decision, there are words and statements I didn’t say,” 15-year-old Moussa H., from Côte d’Ivoire, told us.[80]

All of the children we interviewed said they travelled from their home countries without parents or caregivers; many said they made the decision to do so on their own rather than at the behest of an adult. Most of these children said they had worked in their home countries and at some point on their journey to France. These experiences are credible and are shared by children Human Rights Watch has interviewed across the globe.[81]

However, even though working and travelling alone are common experiences of children who come to France and other countries, screeners often took these facts as evidence of adulthood. For example, in one case reviewed by Human Rights Watch, a 16-year-old Malian boy received a negative age assessment based in part on his decision to leave his country on his own: “You have demonstrated significant autonomy and maturity by deciding on your own to leave your country and travel alone.”[82] Child welfare authorities rejected another 16-year-old Malian boy’s claim to be underage in part because he had worked while en route to Europe to be able to continue his journey: “You have demonstrated proven independence by working as a laborer at several construction sites during your [nine-month] migratory journey.”[83]

Similarly, a 15-year-old Afghan boy received a negative age assessment in part because the fact that he had worked for one year in Turkey before he was able to continue his journey through Greece and Italy to France.[84] Officials judged another Afghan boy to be at least 18 based in part on the following factors:

You have demonstrated definite independence and maturity by working during your migratory journey, by organizing your own journey from Iran to Turkey, and by travelling alone from Iran to France.[85]

Other denial letters reviewed by Human Rights Watch reached similar adverse conclusions because of work during the journey to Europe.[86]

In other cases, examiners appear to rely on the assumption that all unaccompanied children will have a disheveled appearance. “After asking me a lot of questions, the lady told me to my face that I was not unaccompanied because I was well-dressed, clean, and had a good phone,” Abdoulaye D., a 17-year-old Guinean boy, told us. He was particularly aggrieved at an additional factor she mentioned, that his French was too educated. He said:

That’s what hurt me the most, that the fact that my French is good is the reason for my failure [to be recognized as under age 18]. That’s a total injustice. I come from Guinea, a French-speaking country. Of all the things [the officials] told me, that’s the only thing that hurts me. I regret having learned French.[87]

We heard from other children who said they received denial letters or were turned away without written decisions by examiners who told them they spoke French too well to be under age 18. For example, Imrane O., a 15-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, said that he went to the DEMIE shortly after his arrival in Paris in November 2017:

 When I presented myself at the DEMIE, a woman there started yelling at me. She said, “How can I believe you?” She said that I was answering her questions too well. Because I could answer her questions, I couldn’t be a minor. How is that? I did eight years of schooling, in French. Of course I could answer her questions. They didn’t give me a formal letter. They just told me I was rejected and said I should go to the judge.[88]

Similarly, a Guinean youth who had lived for a time in Sierra Leone, an English-speaking country, received a negative age assessment based in part because he was able to speak both English and French without having gone to school.[89]

“Behavior,” “bearing,” and similar subjective elements are also sometimes given as among the bases for a negative age assessment. “My letter said something like, ‘in light of your behaviour, the way you hold yourself and express yourself, you cannot be a minor.’ This made me feel bad. It’s not right,” Ramatoulaye S., 17, said.[90] In another case, a 16-year-old Malian boy received a negative age assessment in part, his letter said, because “[y]our bearing during the interview does not correspond to that of an adolescent.”[91]

Some denial letters suggest that youths simultaneously have the confidence and bearing of an adult along with other characteristics that appear to contradict that conclusion.[92]

Other denial letters mention specific behaviors that do not appear to provide a basis to determine that a person is not a child. “You were annoyed by the questions relating to your journey and your age,” the letter to a 16-year-old Guinean boy stated.[93] In another case, the denial letter to a 15-year-old Afghan boy concluded that his “affirmative and demanding mode of communication with adults,” among other behavior, was inconsistent with the age he claimed to be.[94]

In some cases, negative age assessments appear to set an inappropriately high bar for the level of detail that can be reasonably expected of a teenager who has undergone an arduous journey, may be living on the streets, and is facing a stressful interview. For example, the denial letter issued to a 16-year-old Chadian boy who had lived in Libya for most of life gave the following summary of the boy’s account:

You left [Libya] to flee the war as well as the mistreatment inflicted by your mother-in-law. You financed your journey yourself with money you had set aside. You paid 500 dinars [305 euros] to a smuggler and embarked on a Zodiac [an inflatable boat] to Italy. You took a train to Ventimille and then to Paris. You arrived in the capital on [date withheld], ran into some Sudanese migrants who told you to go to Porte de la Chapelle, and from there you went to the DEMIE.[95]

Despite these details, the letter concluded, “[Your account of] your migratory journey lacks precision.”[96]

The identical phrase appears in the denial letter for a 15-year-old Afghan boy, even though he had provided a reasonably specific account of his journey to France:

You left your country about 15 months ago. You crossed Iran, then Turkey, Bulgaria, Serbia, Croatia, and Italy with smugglers and other migrants. You crossed the French border on foot and arrived in France on [date withheld]. You changed trains several times and arrived in Paris [the following day]. You do not remember the towns you passed through in Italy and then in France. In Paris you met some compatriots. You slept in a park for three nights, and then some Afghans told you to go to the DEMIE on [date withheld].[97]

In other cases, officials drew adverse conclusions from youths’ failure to describe specific aspects of their journey, without appearing to ask them directly about these elements or to consider the possibility that a child might not want to discuss particularly traumatic experiences with a person he or she has just met. For example, one denial letter included the statement, “You did not talk about the desert at all, nor of the difficulties encountered during your journey, particularly in Libya.”[98]

Some refusals were based on minor inconsistencies in dates. “I’ve seen one letter that said the kid’s account wasn’t coherent because he told them he was 16 but the details he gave suggested he was 14 instead,” a volunteer told Human Rights Watch.[99] In another case, the denial letter issued to a Guinean boy stated:

Your account of your schooling is inconsistent. If you started school in 2008 and have been in school for five years, you should have stopped attending school in 2013 and not in 2010.[100]

In a third case, a 16-year-old boy from Guinea received a negative age assessment based in part on a question about his last year of school even though he would have been under age 18 in either case:

[The account of] your schooling is not coherent. You indicate that you began your schooling at the age of six and continued your schooling for six years. You should therefore have interrupted your studies in 2013 and not 2015 as you say.[101]

Similarly, a 15-year-old Afghan boy was not recognized as a child in part for the following reason:

The story of your schooling is incomplete: you state that you left school at the age of 12 but did not specify in which year.[102]

Many denials were based in part on the child’s failure to provide identity documents, even though many people leave their homes without identity documents or lose them in transit. For instance, the denial letter for a 15-year-old Guinean boy indicates that he recounted in detail his education, family situation, month of departure from his home town, and journey to France, and concludes, as the sole basis for rejecting his claim to be under the age of 18:

You are not in possession of any identity document. You have not offered any tangible evidence to support the minority and isolation that you claim.[103]

Human Rights Watch researchers saw other denial letters that used identical or similar terms as the sole basis for a negative age assessment, disregarding detailed personal histories provided by applicants.[104]

When we asked about these bases for negative age assessments, the French Red Cross official told us that we would have to speak to the head of the child welfare agency, the authority that issues the formal decision. (The child welfare agency agreed to meet with us just before publication of this report.) We asked what weight DEMIE staff would give to factors such as working during the trip to Europe and comportment or “bearing.” In response, the official told us that working during the journey would not be taken as the sole means for determining that an individual was not a child. With respect to a person’s comportment, he replied, “A person’s attitude and manner of interacting with others can be a factor in determining majority.”[105] But when we asked if DEMIE officials used a validated assessment tool or other systematic means of evaluating attitude and comportment, he said they did not,[106] meaning that these criteria are assessed subjectively and potentially arbitrarily.

We heard of some cases in which the child welfare agency issued a negative decision even though the DEMIE recommended recognition.[107] The French Defender of Rights has also documented such cases.[108]

More generally, the Defender of Rights has sharply criticized negative age assessments based on “negative, insufficient or even nonexistent bases.”[109] The Defender of Rights has also cautioned that evaluators should take care to ensure that their assessments are not based on stereotypes—for example, that self-assurance is an indication of adulthood, or that hesitation or confusion in relating events is an indication that the account is not credible.[110]

Routine Rejection of Birth Documents

Child welfare officials and judges regularly question birth certificates and other identity documents, even though under French law, birth registration and similar documents obtained abroad carry a presumption of validity.[111]

Denial letters frequently describe birth records as “not secure” (non-sécurisé) and “not directly relatable” to an individual (non rattachable), presumably because they do not ordinarily bear photos, fingerprints, or similar biometric identifiers.[112] For instance, a letter issued to a 16-year-old Malian boy based a negative age assessment in part on the ground that “[t]he birth certificate you present cannot be directly linked to you,”[113] a statement that could be made of most birth certificates. The denial letter did not clarify whether the examiner attempted to compare the boy’s answers with the document he offered.

Officials often exclude replacement or delayed birth documents from consideration even though they have been issued by the order of a judge in the country of origin, a procedure known as a jugement supplétif, or “supplementary judgement,” which typically requires the production of witnesses in court who can attest to a child’s birth and parentage.[114] For instance, the child welfare agency reached a negative age assessment in the case of a Guinean boy, stating:

You produced an excerpt of the civil status registry dated [withheld], as well as an additional civil judgement issued on [date withheld]. In view of their non-secured nature and the inability to associate the documents with the applicant, these two documents cannot contribute to the cluster of evaluation indices.[115]

Other denial letters reviewed by Human Rights Watch took the same approach to judicially authenticated birth records.[116]

The Defender of Rights has cautioned that the absence of a photo on birth registration or similar documents should not be taken as a basis to exclude the document from consideration.[117]

Children who go before judges have had similar experiences. For example, Souleymane G., a 16-year-old Guinean boy, told us he saw the judge in early January and showed his birth certificate. “I spoke with my mother, and she was able to send my birth certificate. She also went to the court in Guinea to get additional proof of my age,” he said, showing us documents from a tribunal in Guinea that validated his birth certificate based on the testimony of two witnesses. Even with these documents, the judge directed him to undergo a bone test.[118]

In another case, Abdoulaye D., a 17-year-old Guinean boy, sought review by the court in Évry, about 45 km south of Paris, in October 2017. After waiting for two months, he went to the court to ask when his case would be heard, and the court officials told him that his file had been lost, meaning that he would have to request review again. With the help of his lawyers, he secured a court date in early March 2018. At his hearing, he showed the judge a certified consular document, which we also saw. The judge told him the document was not an official identity document. “It’s unreal. It’s not clear. They don’t tell you what’s happening. And then it’s like they’re trying purposely to string me out until I turn 18,” he said. At the time of our interview, he was waiting to hear the outcome of his hearing.[119]

Initial evaluators and judicial authorities also sometimes question passports, which do contain biometric identifiers. For instance, the denial letter issued to a 15-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire excluded his passport from consideration on the ground that it had no entry or exit stamps or visas,[120] even though most unaccompanied children who arrive in France from West Africa do not cross borders at official crossing points. The French Defender of Rights has documented similar cases.[121]

Possession of documents may also be insufficient to prevent DEMIE staff from summarily turning individuals away without conducting an age assessment. For example, a boy from Côte d’Ivoire, Mahamadou Z., also 16, told us that he had had his birth certificate authenticated by the embassy before going to the DEMIE. When he showed DEMIE staff his birth certificate, they told him to see the judge, without conducting an age assessment interview and without giving him a refusal letter.[122]

Discredited Bone Examinations

Some judges rely on bone examinations as a means of determining age, even though French medical bodies have consistently criticised such tests as unreliable and called for an end to their use. Lawyers and nongovernmental organizations working with unaccompanied children said that the use of bone tests by judges varied, with some judges ordering these tests routinely.[123] Human Rights Watch was not able to obtain data for the total number of bone examinations ordered by judges in Paris.

Souleymane G., the 16-year-old boy from Guinea who was ordered by a judge to have a bone test even though he provided his birth certificate and a judicial authentication of that document, described his examination. “I put my hand like this on a scanner,” he said, spreading his fingers out. “They counted my teeth. They measured my head. The results haven’t come yet.”[124]

A boy interviewed by Public Radio International for The World said that he arrived in France at age 16. After child welfare authorities refused to recognize him as a child, he had his identity documents authenticated by the Cameroonian embassy before he went to the court. Nevertheless, the judge ordered verification of his documents and, four months later, a bone examination. The results of the examination were not ready until a week before his eighteenth birthday—a lengthy delay that is consistent with other cases reported to Human Rights Watch. “[The test showed that I was between 17 and 18 years old. . . . So the judge says, ‘You’re almost 18. You’re not a minor.' I said, ‘Why did you take all that time to tell me that? Of course it says that I am almost 18, my birthday is next week.’ And she said, 'So there’s nothing else we can do for you. You’re going to have to manage by yourself.’”[125]

Appeals of such rulings are possible but time-consuming, and children who seek to appeal to higher courts face the prospect of protracted periods of uncertainty. If they turn 18 in the meantime, they are ineligible for any of the services they would have received as children.

Evaluating the medical tests used in France to determine age, the National Consultative Committee on Ethics for Health and Life Sciences (Comité consultatif national d’éthique pour les sciences de la vie et de la santé) noted that these examinations are based on studies undertaken between 1930 and the mid-1950s among heterogeneous, middle class American and British populations. Even in those populations, nutritional changes and other factors have altered signs of bone maturation in significant ways, the committee noted.[126] It concluded, “The age of a teenager can never be reduced to an image, a measurement, or a demonstration of pubertal development.”[127]

The National Academy of Medicine has observed that the method of bone tests uniformly used in France “does not permit a clear distinction in the range between 16 and 18 years of age.”[128]

For these reasons, the High Council of Public Health (Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique) concluded in 2014:

The estimation of bone age (the method most often used) does not make it possible to determine the exact age of a youth when he is close to the legal age of majority. The determination of a physiological age on the basis of a radiograph alone is to be prohibited.[129]

The French Defender of Rights, Médecins du Monde, the Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, the Human Rights Commissioner of the Council of Europe, and the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, among others, have called on French authorities to abandon their use of bone examinations to determine age.[130]

In June 2018, the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that “the use of bone testing to determine the age of unaccompanied foreign minors is inappropriate and unreliable,” finding that France’s use of such tests violates the European Social Charter.[131]

 

The Consequences of Incorrect Age Assessment

When the Red Cross told me I was refused, I said to myself, “What am I going to do now?” The staff at the DEMIE refused to give me a metro ticket. They said to me, “When you are refused here, you are no longer entitled to anything.” I spent the day thinking, “What am I going to do?” It was cold outside. It was really hard.
— Ramatoulaye S., age 17, from Côte d’Ivoire

It all seems impossible sometimes, with no place to stay, going back and forth. How can you live? It’s exhausting. It makes my head tired from all the stress, having to look every day for a place to wash, get some water to drink, eat, sleep.
—15-year-old Moussa H., from Côte d’Ivoire

Unaccompanied migrant children in France who are incorrectly deemed to be adults find themselves distinctly disadvantaged—unable to access either the protections afforded to children or, while they are seeking review before a judge, the services available to adults.[132] Migrant children wrongly identified as adults may also face the stress and danger of being homeless as a child.

Refusal of or delays in recognition as children may also mean loss of legal status upon adulthood because the fact and timing of being taken into care by the child welfare system affect eligibility for residence permits and French nationality. In practice, negative age assessments also impede access to asylum because children who are not in the child protection system must seek appointment of a legal representative (administrateur ad hoc) from the public prosecutor (procureur),[133] a protracted process.

Although all children in France are by law afforded the right to education regardless of their migration status, they may experience difficulties registering at school while they are seeking review of negative age assessments and, in some cases, even if they have been formally recognized as children.

In addition, our research found that negative age assessments have adverse consequences for mental health, including depression, self-harm, and thoughts of suicide.

More generally, many children expressed disillusionment in the fact of the treatment they received at the DEMIE and the consequences of negative age assessments for their sense of safety, security, and self. In a typical account, Idrissou M., a 16-year-old Guinean boy, told us:

Before I came to France, I would never have expected to go through this. The whole time I was in Italy, I didn’t understand the language. I said to myself, ‘I have to go to France. Once I get to France, I will feel at home.’ My country was a French colony. I thought I would understand the language and the way of life once I reached France. I thought if I came to France, I would get help.[134]

Homelessness

The most immediate consequence of a negative age assessment is homelessness. In principle, France has an obligation to ensure the basic needs of all persons in its territory, regardless of immigration status. In practice, children who are refused at the DEMIE are not referred to the limited systems in place for adults, meaning that they spend one or more nights on the streets until they find assistance through aid groups.

Idrissou M., the 16-year-old boy from Guinea, told Human Rights Watch that he had to leave the temporary accommodation he had been given at a hotel when he received a negative age evaluation. “I asked them, ‘Where can I go? I don’t have anybody.’ They just said, ‘No, we can’t take you in anymore.’”[135]

Many of the other unaccompanied children we interviewed told us they lived on the streets after receiving negative age assessments. For instance, Mahamadou Z., a 16-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire, told Human Rights Watch that after he was turned away at the DEMIE and while he was waiting for a decision from the judge, he usually slept in the Couronnes Garden (Jardin des Couronnes), a park in Belleville, in the 20th Arrondissement of Paris. He also spent nights in the metro, and on cold nights he went to Porte de la Chapelle to sleep in a tent with some other migrants he knows.[136]

Many of these children told us they felt unsafe sleeping on the streets. Moussa H., a 15-year-old from Côte d’Ivoire, said:

I have slept on the street a lot of times, near Porte de la Chapelle. There’s a place with a bridge, and we spend the night underneath it. We heard that we have to be careful, because sometimes people get robbed. It’s tiring. It’s not right. It’s really exhausting. Some people turn to alcohol to deal with things. Others use drugs. It’s really shocking, what we have to deal with.[137]

“When I spend the night outdoors, I’m scared, anyone could come up and hurt me. You don’t know who is who,” Mahamadou Z., 16, told us.[138]

“Once when I was on the street, while I was sleeping somebody stole my backpack with all my clothes. I was too cold when I was sleeping. I had no blanket or tent,” said Ramatoulaye S., a 17-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire.[139]

When Refugee Rights Europe conducted a survey of 238 migrants living on the streets in Paris in late January 2018, 42 percent of respondents reported feeling unsafe. Three-quarters of those who said they felt unsafe reported verbal abuse by French citizens, often in the form of racial abuse, and one in five said they had been subjected to physical violence by French citizens.[140]

More generally, children described the uncertainty of having to look for accommodation repeatedly. “Every night I sleep somewhere else. This is very difficult. There are some days I sleep with a family. On other days a whole group of us sleeps in a truck. It’s very difficult, very cold. It’s not very comfortable. We are all hungry, but we have to take what we can get,” Azad R., a 16-year-old Afghan boy, told Human Rights Watch in February.[141]

“I don’t have a single place that I stay. The groups help me find a place to stay, or MSF helps me. Sometimes I stay with French families that offer a bed for a night,” 16-year-old Nawid S., from Afghanistan, told Human Rights Watch in February 2018. When we spoke to him again in March, he had been fortunate enough to be able to stay with a family for several weeks.[142]

“It’s exhausting changing the place you stay all the time, not having a fixed address,” 17-year-old Ramatoulaye S. told us.[143]

Loss of Status

Lack of recognition as a child has significant consequences for an individual’s legal status. Children are not required to obtain a visa or residence permit (titre de séjour), regardless of their manner of entry to or length of stay in France.[144] Adults, in contrast, may be detained and deported if they cannot produce evidence of lawful presence.

Lack of or delays in recognition also have important implications for long-term status, even for individuals who are ultimately found to be children. Children who are taken into the care of the child welfare system before the age of 16 are eligible, once they reach age 18, for residence permits that allow them to continue their studies or to work.[145] If they are taken into care before the age of 15, they can request French nationality at age 18.[146]Those who are taken into care after the age of 16 may be able to obtain student or work permits at the age of 18.[147] Those who “age out” during the process are ineligible for these permits.

In principle, an adverse age assessment for entry into the child welfare system should not affect an individual’s ability to seek asylum. In practice, however, a child who goes to the reception hub for asylum seekers (the first stage in submitting an asylum application), is generally told to go to the DEMIE to seek protection from the child welfare system.

“These are totally different procedures, and the grounds for entry into the child protection system are different from those for asylum. We were told that the actual reason for this practice is that the reception hub’s computer system cannot accept an age less than 18. As a consequence, some youths have been induced to give a false age to get an appointment with the prefecture to begin their asylum application,” Catherine Delanoë-Daoud, one of the heads of the Paris Bar’s initiative to provide legal support for unaccompanied children, told Human Rights Watch. She and other lawyers have been able to get the reception hub to list unaccompanied children’s declared age, but only when they have gone to the reception hub with the child, she said. Authorities should accept applications from unaccompanied children and then immediately seek the appointment of a legal representative (administrateur ad hoc) to assist the child with the asylum process, she told us.[148]

Some children told us they planned to seek asylum, but only after their age assessment process was completed. “It was complicated until they accepted me,” Faraz S., a 16-year-old from Afghanistan who told us the child welfare agency had formally recognized him as a child the previous week. In addition to not understanding the process for applying, he told us that he had not been able to think about making an asylum claim while his status as a child and access to housing remained uncertain. “All I was able to think about was what would happen to me and where I would sleep,” he said.[149]

Adverse Effect on Mental Health

Time on the street and uncertainty about what the future will bring take their toll on children. As Mélanie Kerloc’h, an MSF psychologist, told Human Rights Watch, “Few have been homeless in their country. They are exposed physically; they have no physical respite. Their psyche is always on alert, in survival mode . . . . This experience has emotional and behavioural impacts, the consequence of fatigue, of sleep deprivation.”[150]

“It makes me very stressed. I keep thinking, when will I go to the judge? How will the judge respond? I keep thinking of all of this. Maybe I’ll have to leave France,” said 16-year-old Issouf Y., from Côte d’Ivoire.[151]

Adama B., from Guinea, told us, “I keep thinking of everything. What will happen if nobody helps me? Where will I sleep? I think about that all the time. These thoughts keep me awake at night.”[152]

Negative age assessments also have an adverse impact on mental health, Mélanie Kerloc’h, the MSF psychologist, told us. “They associate the denial of recognition of their age with what they said [about their lives], as if what they told the official about their experiences was false. It’s seen as a denigration or as an erasure,” she said.[153]

Some children described acts of self-harm. “I was thinking about my situation and feeling very bad. One day I was smoking a cigarette when I was having these thoughts, so I took it and burned myself,” Nawid S., a 16-year-old Afghan boy, told Human Rights Watch, showing a raised welt on his wrist.[154]

In addition, some children who are seen at the MSF center describe strong suicide ideation, Mélanie Kerloc’h, the MSF psychologist, told us.[155]

Denial of Education

Nearly all of the children interviewed by Human Rights Watch spoke of their strong desire to continue their education as a means of fulfilling their potential, living up to their families’ hopes and expectations, and contributing to society.

In principle, all children in France have the right to education, regardless of their migration status. In practice, however, aid workers and children themselves report that it is often difficult to register at a school.

Unaccompanied children who are awaiting the outcome of judicial hearings to review negative age determinations consistently report difficulties with school enrollment, regardless of the length of time their case was under review. In fact, none of the children we interviewed who were seeking review of an adverse age assessment had been able to enroll in school. “Now that I’m recognized, I can go,” 16-year-old Faraz S., from Afghanistan, told us, saying that he had been formally recognized as a child the previous week. “Up to now I haven’t been able to attend school,” he said.[156]

We also heard of cases in which children faced difficulties with school enrollment even after they were formally recognized as under the age of 18. In one such case, Oumar W., a 17-year-old from Mali who had received a verbal negative age assessment after a 30-minute interview at the DEMIE and was then recognized as a child by the juvenile judge, had been waiting for five months to enroll in school when we interviewed him in March 2018.[157]

Legal Standards

The practices identified in this report violate unaccompanied children’s human rights. Instead of the full and proper procedure to which they are entitled under the law, unaccompanied children have been subject to arbitrary age assessments, including being turned away on the basis of appearance alone; summary interviews after which they have not received written decisions, without which they cannot seek review by a judge; adverse inferences drawn from their accounts in an arbitrary manner; and the use of discredited bone tests. This treatment violates the human rights standards applicable to unaccompanied migrant children. In addition, because formal recognition as a child is an essential first step to enter the child protection system and receive other rights and services, including access to housing, health, and education and regularization of legal status at majority, the age assessment procedures employed in Paris lead to denial of children’s right to protection and assistance.

Applicable EU Law Governing Treatment of Unaccompanied Children

Central to the current EU legal framework governing treatment of unaccompanied children are article 25 of Directive 2013/32/EU (Asylum Procedures Directive) and article 24 of Directive 2013/33/EU (Reception Conditions Directive), which address the rights of unaccompanied children and their procedural protections.[158] The directives require governments to appoint a representative for an unaccompanied child, with the necessary expertise and qualifications to perform the role, as soon as possible. Both directives explicitly require the representative to fulfil their functions “in accordance with the principle of the best interests of the child.”[159]

Implementation of the directives also has to conform with fundamental rights norms laid down in other sources of EU law, including the EU Charter of Fundamental Rights,[160] and with human rights instruments including but not limited to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees,[161] the European Convention on Human Rights,[162] the European Social Charter,[163] the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child,[164] the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR),[165] the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW),[166] and the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.[167] These norms may require governments to go beyond the level of guarantees laid down in the directives.

Children’s Right to Fair and Non-Arbitrary Proceedings

Identification of children as under age 18 is a prerequisite for them to access the special protection and assistance to which they are entitled and so determination of the threshold question of whether an individual is a child is a critical process.[168] Not least because of the far-reaching consequences on the rights of the child of the outcome of this process, it cannot be arbitrary and should comply with the principle of fairness.[169]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child has identified several specific procedural guarantees that states should afford to unaccompanied and separated children. The child’s best interests should be “a guiding principle for determining the priority of protection needs and the chronology of measures to be applied in respect of unaccompanied and separated children.”[170] Children should receive appropriate assistance, including the appointment of guardians before the commencement of age assessment procedures and the assistance of interpreters throughout the procedure. Interviews should be tailored to the needs of children and should be conducted by examiners with the necessary training and skills. Any age assessment procedures used should be multidisciplinary and should afford the benefit of the doubt “such that if there is a possibility that the individual is a child, s/he should be treated as such.”[171]

Children also have the right to have access to asylum procedures regardless of their age and regardless of whether they are unaccompanied or with other family members.[172] Realization of this right requires that children be referred to asylum procedures when evidence or the totality of circumstances indicates reasonable grounds for concern that a child may be in need of international protection, even if the child is unable to explicitly articulate a concrete fear.[173]

The age assessment and asylum procedures used in Paris as documented in this report do not protect children’s best interests, do not afford them legal and other appropriate assistance as a matter of routine, and therefore do not meet international standards.

The Requirement to Protect Children’s Best Interests

The EU directives explicitly stipulate that “[t]he best interests of the child shall be a primary consideration for Member States when implementing this Directive.”[174]The Committee on the Rights of the Child calls for the principle of best interests to be “respected during all stages of the displacement cycle. At any of these stages, a best interest determination must be documented in preparation of any decision fundamentally impacting on the unaccompanied or separated child’s life,”[175] including “any administrative or judicial decision concerning the . . . placement or care of a child.”[176] All best interest determinations should be “carried out in a friendly and safe atmosphere by qualified professionals who are trained in age and gender-sensitive interviewing techniques.”[177]

Practices such as turning children away at the door, conducting summary interviews without written decisions, regularly excluding documentary evidence of age from consideration, and basing age assessments in part on work during the journey to France, fluency in French, minor inconsistencies in dates, and similar grounds do not protect children’s best interests.

The Right to Legal and Other Assistance

Both directives require governments to appoint a representative to represent and assist the child as soon as possible.[178] According to the Committee on the Rights of the Child, unaccompanied and separated children should have guardians appointed “as expeditiously as possible,” before the commencement of any age assessment procedures or other processes.[179]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child regards the appointment of a guardian as “a key procedural safeguard to ensure respect for the best interests of an unaccompanied or separated child.”[180] When a separated or unaccompanied child is placed in asylum proceedings or any other administrative or judicial proceedings, or whenever a child is the principal applicant in an asylum procedure, the child should also have a legal representative appointed.[181] The guardian should be “an adult who is familiar with the child’s background and who is competent and able to represent his or her best interests.”[182] In cases where a legal representative is also required, the legal representative should be provided free of charge.[183]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child and UNHCR also call for children to receive legal representation throughout the process.[184] Similarly, the Inter-Agency Guiding Principles on Unaccompanied and Separated Children call for “the appointment of a legal representative as well as a guardian to promote a decision that will be in the child’s best interests.”[185]

Children should have the assistance of interpreters during interviews, including in any age assessment procedures.[186]

Unaccompanied children in France do not receive legal or other assistance from the start of the age assessment process, inconsistent with these standards.

Age Assessment Procedures

Article 25 (5) of the Asylum Procedures Directive explicitly addresses age assessments and establishes that they are only appropriate if there doubts about the individual’s age and any continuing doubt about age, is to be resolved in the individual’s favor so they are treated as a child.[187] Therefore, under EU law, age assessments should only be used if there are grounds for serious doubt about an individual’s age, and never as a routine practice.[188]This is consistent with recommendations from other bodies such as the Committee on the Rights of the Child and UNHCR.

These authorities have made clear that age assessment should be as a matter of last resort, used only where there are serious doubts about an individual’s declared age and where other approaches, including efforts to gather documentary evidence, have failed to establish an individual’s age.[189] UNHCR notes that “[a]ge assessments are never to be used as a matter of routine.”[190] Similarly, the Statement of Good Practice of the Separated Children in Europe Programme recommends that “[a]ge assessment procedures should only be undertaken as a measure of last resort, not as standard or routine practice, where there are grounds for serious doubt and where other approaches, such as interviews and attempts to gather documentary evidence, have failed to establish the individual’s age.”[191]

As a preliminary matter, authorities should clearly and formally offer reasons why an individual’s age is doubted before commencing age assessment procedures. With respect to documents, the Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and the Committee on the Rights of the Child state, “Documents that are available should be considered genuine unless there is proof to the contrary . . . .”[192]

When age assessment procedures are used, they should be multidisciplinary in nature.Age assessments “should not only take into account the physical appearance of the individual, but also his or her psychological maturity.”[193] UNHCR notes that “the guiding principle is whether an individual demonstrates an ‘immaturity’ and vulnerability that may require more sensitive treatment.”[194]

Interviews with children, whether as part of an age assessment process or for other purposes, require particular expertise and care. UNHCR cautions that “[c]hildren cannot be expected to provide adult-like accounts of their experiences”[195] and observes that “time is crucial in building trust and allows for proper recollection and sharing of information about the child’s own story which is useful in establishing his or her age.”[196]

UNHCR advises:

It is, therefore, essential that examiners have the necessary training and skills to be able to evaluate accurately the reliability and significance of the child’s account. This may require involving experts in interviewing children outside a formal setting or observing children and communicating with them in an environment where they feel safe, for example, in a reception centre.[197]

The Committee on the Rights of the Child similarly calls for adjudicators and examiners to receive appropriate training.[198] In particular, as the Separated Children in Europe Programme’s Statement of Good Practice recommends, “Immigration or border police staff and other relevant actors should receive training in conducting child-friendly interviews.”[199]

Examiners should take particular care to avoid imposing their own culturally specific or other stereotyped notions of childhood in conducting age assessments. For example, working from young ages is uncommon in Europe but common in many parts of the world. Engaging in work, including very dangerous or difficult work or working for long hours, is not in itself an indicator of adulthood.

International standards, including, as noted above, the EU Asylum Procedures Directive,[200] call on authorities to give individuals the benefit of the doubt in cases in which age is uncertain or disputed. The Committee on the Rights of the Child has concluded that age assessment procedures “should accord the individual the benefit of the doubt such that if there is a possibility that the individual is a child, she or he should be treated as such.”[201] In similar terms, UNHCR observes that “[t]he margin of appreciation inherent to all age assessment methods needs to be applied in such a manner that, in case of uncertainty, the individual will be considered a child.”[202]

Moreover, UNHCR cautions:

Where possible, the legal consequences or significance of the age criteria should be reduced or downplayed. It is not desirable that too many legal advantages and disadvantages are known to flow from the criteria because this may be an incentive for misrepresentation. The guiding principle is whether an individual demonstrates an “immaturity” and vulnerability that may require more sensitive treatment.[203]

Age assessments should be timely. “Delays in or prolonged decision-making have particularly adverse effects on children as they evolve.”[204]

They should be provided in writing and should set forth the basis for any denial: “In order to demonstrate that the right of the child to have his or her best interests assessed and taken as a primary consideration has been respected, any decision concerning the child or children must be motivated, justified and explained.”[205] Authorities should provide these decisions in a language and manner that the children involved understand.[206]

Medical Examinations

The Asylum Procedures Directive explicitly permits EU governments to order medical examinations if essential to try to determine the applicants age but stipulates they shall always be with the consent of the child and “the least invasive examination and shall be carried out by qualified medical professionals.”[207] In June 2018, the European Committee of Social Rights concluded that “the use of bone testing to determine the age of unaccompanied foreign minors is inappropriate and unreliable” and found that that France’s use of such tests violates the European Social Charter.[208] In line with the decision of the European Committee of Social Rights, Human Rights Watch calls on states not to  rely on medical tests as a means of age determination, particularly given that experts repeatedly warn they are not a reliable way to correctly determine age.

UNHCR cautions that governments should bear in mind that medical examinations have a margin of error.[209] The margin of error is particularly wide for examinations used on adolescents, meaning that their probative value is negligible in close cases.[210] For these reasons, the Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Committee on the Rights of the Child call on states to “refrain from using medical methods based on, inter alia, bone and dental exam analysis . . . .”[211]

The Separated Children in Europe Programme recommends that “if any documentary proof of age emerges at any point in time, this should override any previous result recorded on the basis of medical or other exams.[212]

The Obligation to Provide Unaccompanied Children with Care and Accommodation

Children who have been deprived of their family environment have the right to special protection and assistance provided by the state.[213] As with other children living on the street, “the State is the de facto caregiver and is obliged . . . to ensure alternative care to a child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment.”[214] The European Committee of Social Rights has ruled that unaccompanied children enjoy a right to shelter.[215] Likewise the European Court of Human Rights found that authorities have a responsibility to ensure unaccompanied minors have suitable accommodation and that failing to do so may amount to degrading treatment in violation of the ECHR.[216]Both Council of Europe bodies have highlighted that states must not use their immigration policy to deprive foreign children, especially those who are unaccompanied, of the protection their status warrants.[217]

Alternative care can take a combination of forms to meet the practical needs of unaccompanied children. The types of care may include, for example, outreach and support programs to identify and offer practical assistance (including food, clothing, and information) to unaccompanied children living on the streets, drop-in and community or social centers, night shelters, temporary residential care in group homes, foster care, and independent living or long-term care options.[218]

The failure to provide alternative care and accommodation to unaccompanied children not only violates their right to the protection and care necessary for their well-being[219] but also contravenes their rights to enjoyment of a life with dignity,[220] to protection from violence and exploitation,[221] and to minimum essential levels of economic, social and cultural rights.[222]

The Right to Education

All children have the right to education. As the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has observed:

Education is both a right in itself and an indispensable means of realizing other human rights. As an empowerment right, education is the primary vehicle by which economically and socially marginalized adults and children can lift themselves out of poverty and obtain the means to participate fully in their communities. . . . But the importance of education is not just practical: a well-educated, enlightened and active mind, able to wander freely and widely, is one of the joys and rewards of human existence.[223]

At the primary level, education should be compulsory and available free to all. Secondary education and vocational training should be available and accessible to every child.[224]

The Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has “confirm[ed] that the principle of non-discrimination extends to all persons of school age residing in the territory of a State party, including non-nationals, and irrespective of their legal status.”[225] Similarly, the Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination recommends that states “[r]emove obstacles that prevent the enjoyment of economic, social and cultural rights by noncitizens, notably in the area of education” and “[e]nsure that public educational institutions are open to non-citizens and children of undocumented immigrants residing in the territory of a state party.”[226]

The Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers and the Committee on the Rights of the Child call on states to ensure that “[a]ll children in the context of international migration, shall have full access to all levels and all aspects of education, including early childhood education and vocational training, on the basis of equality with nationals of the country where those children are living.”[227]

Separated and unaccompanied children should have access to education throughout the time they are outside of their countries of origin.[228] To avoid disruption to education, authorities should avoid having children move during the school year and should support them in the completion of compulsory and ongoing education courses after they reach the age of majority.[229]

 

Acknowledgments

This report was written by Michael Garcia Bochenek, senior counsel on children’s rights at Human Rights Watch, based on research he undertook from February to May 2018 with Helen Griffiths, children’s rights senior coordinator; Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director; Camille Marquis, senior advocacy associate; and Valérie Lombard, senior outreach director. Aisling Reidy, senior legal adviser, contributed to the section on legal standards. Sarah Thau, intern in the Paris office, provided research assistance, and Salomé Moatti, intern in the Paris office, took part in some interviews.

Zama Neff, executive director of the Children’s Rights Division; Judith Sunderland, associate Europe and Central Asia director; Aisling Reidy; and Tom Porteous, deputy program director, edited the report. Bénédicte Jeannerod and Anna Chaplin also reviewed the report. Alex Firth, associate in the Children’s Rights Division; Fitzroy Hepkins, administrative manager; and José Martínez, senior coordinator, produced the report. Damien Bonelli translated the report into French, and Camille Marquis reviewed the translation.

We appreciate the willingness of the children’s ombudsman (Défenseur des enfants) and her staff and officials with the French Office for the Protection of Refugees and Stateless Persons (Office français de protection des réfugies et apatrides, OFPRA), the French Red Cross, and Paris City Hall to meet with us to discuss our findings.

Human Rights Watch is particularly grateful to the nongovernmental organizations and individuals who generously assisted us in the course of this research, including Agathe Nadimi and staff and volunteers with ADJIE, Association Timmy, Médecins sans Frontières, Paris d’Exils, Paris Refugee Ground Support, Solidarithé, and Utopia 56.

Finally, we would like to thank the children and young adults who were willing to share their experiences.

 

Glossary

ADJIE

Support and Defense for Young Isolated Foreigners (Accompagnement et défense des jeunes isolés étrangers), a group that provides legal support for unaccompanied migrant children

AME

State Medical Aid (Aide médicale d’État), health care for those with irregular migration status

ASE

Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance, the child welfare service in France

Bulle

The “Bubble,” a center in Porte de la Chapelle, in northern Paris, that offered 10 days of temporary shelter to adult migrants arriving in the city. The center closed at the end of March 2018.

Cité

The Paris metro station where the juvenile court, whose judges review age assessments done by the DEMIE, was formerly located. Until April 16, 2018, the court was located on Île de la Cité, the island in the Seine that is also the location of the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Paris. After that date, the court moved to Porte de Clichy.

Couronnes

The Paris metro station closest to the DEMIE

DASES

Directorate for Social Action, Children, and Health (Direction de l’action sociale, de l’enfance et de la santé), the Paris child welfare agency

DEMIE

Evaluation Facility for Unaccompanied Foreign Children (Dispositif d’evaluation des mineurs isolés étrangers), run by the French Red Cross

Department

An administrative division of France. Paris is both a city and a department.

FTDA

France Terre d’Asile, a nongovernmental organization

MSF

Médecins sans Frontières, or Doctors Without Borders, a nongovernmental organization that runs a drop-in center and provides services for unaccompanied children in Paris

115

An emergency number that those who are homeless in France can use to find temporary shelter.

 

 

[1] Letter from Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, and Michael Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, to Thierry Couvert Leroy, national delegate, Children and Families, French Red Cross, June 6, 2018; Letter from Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, and Michael Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, to Andres Cardenas, head of the Education Sector, Office of Child Welfare, June 19, 2018.

[2] Letter from Thierry Couvert Leroy, national delegate, Children and Families, French Red Cross, to Bénédicte Jeannerod, France director, Human Rights Watch, and Michael Bochenek, senior counsel, Children’s Rights Division, Human Rights Watch, June 15, 2018.

[3] United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990), art. 1.

[4] UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside Their Country of Origin, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2005/6 (September 1, 2005), para. 7.

[5] Ibid., para. 8.

[6] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamrul R., Paris, March 5, 2018.

[7] Human Rights Watch interview with Youssouf T., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[8] Human Rights Watch interview with Oumar W., Paris, March 12, 2018.

[9] Human Rights Watch interview with Seydou L., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[10] Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa H., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[11] Human Rights Watch interview with Safi D., Paris, March 5, 2018.

[12] Letter from Isabelle Roth and Catherine Delanoë-Daoud, heads of the Paris Bar initiative to address the needs of unaccompanied minors (the Pôle Mineurs Non-Accompagnés), and Emmanuel Daoud, member of the Paris Bar, to François Molins, public prosecutor, High Court of Paris, February 12, 2018, p. 2.

[13] Human Rights Watch interview with Florian Guélard, Utopia 56, Paris, February 20, 2018.

[14] Human Rights Watch interview with Agathe Nadimi, Paris, June 21, 2018.

[15] Eléa Pommier, “Comment sont pris en charge les mineurs isolés étrangers en France?” Le Monde, October 23, 2017, http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2017/10/23/comment-sont-pris-en-charge-les-mineurs-isoles-etrangers-en-france_5204937_3224.html (accessed April 5, 2018).

[16] Assemblée des Départements de France, “L’acceuil des mineurs non accompagnés (MNA) dans les Départements,” February 2018, p. 1, http://www.departements.fr/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/Fiche-info-MNA-270218.pdf (accessed April 10, 2018). See also Maryline Baumard, “Accueil des mineurs étrangers: l’urgence d’une réforme,” Le Monde, November 30, 2017, https://lemonde.fr/societe/article/2017/11/30/mineurs-etrangers-l-urgence-d-une-reforme_5222613_3224.html (accessed April 5, 2018).

[17] See Sénat, Séance du 17 janvier 2018 (compte rendu intégral des débats), https://www.senat.fr/seances/s201801/s20180117/s20180117005.html (accessed April 18, 2018). See also Maryline Baumard, “Accueil des mineurs étrangers: l’urgence d’une réforme.”

[18] Human Rights Watch interview with Corinne Torre, head of France Mission, Médecins sans Frontières, Paris, May 25, 2018.

[19] Human Rights Watch interview with Florian Guélard, February 20, 2018. See also Matt Broomfield, “Trail of Misery: Following Child Refugees Through the Streets of Paris,” Independent, April 14, 2017, https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/child-refugees-paris-migrant-crisis-europe-a7684116.html (accessed April 8, 2018).

[20] Maryline Baumard, “Le centre humanitaire pour migrants, une occasion manquée pour Anne Hidalgo,” Le Monde, April 3, 2018, http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/04/03/le-centre-humanitaire-pour-migrants-une-occasion-manquee-pour-anne-hidalgo_5279948_3224.html (accessed April 3, 2018); Cécile Beaulieu, “Migrants à Paris : ‘La bulle était une expérience unique,’” Le Parisien, March 27, 2018, http://www.leparisien.fr/paris-75/paris-la-bulle-etait-une-experience-unique-27-03-2018-7632399.php (accessed April 8, 2018).

[21] Human Rights Watch interviews with Corinne Torre, head of France Mission, Médecins sans Frontières, Paris, February 13, 2018; Florian Guélard, February 20, 2018; Agathe Nadimi, Paris, May 24, 2018. See also Adeline Sire, In Paris, Volunteers Rally to Feed and House Young People Who Are Migrating to France on Their Own,” The World, PRI, March 29, 2018, https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-03-29/paris-volunteers-rally-feed-and-house-young-people-who-are-migrating-france-their (accessed April 10, 2018).

[22] Maryline Baumard, “Sur les trottoirs parisiens, près de 2,000 migrants attendent de pouvoir déposer une demande d’asile,” Le Monde, April 3, 2018, http://www.lemonde.fr/immigration-et-diversite/article/2018/04/03/sur-les-trottoirs-parisiens-pres-de-2-000-migrants-attendent-de-pouvoir-deposer-une-demande-d-asile_5279765_1654200.html (accessed April 3, 2018).

[23] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdoulaye D., Paris, March 13, 2018.

[24] Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph D., Paris, February 19, 2018.

[25] Human Rights Watch interview with Youssof T., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[26] See generally InfoMIE, “Articulation dispositif national de mise à l’abri, d’évaluation et d’orientation des mineurs isolés étrangers et droit comun de la protection de l’enfance,” n.d., http://www.infomie.net/IMG/pdf/schema_dispositif_national_23092013.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018).

[27] Code de l’action sociale et des familles, art. R.221-11(I) (added by Decree No. 2016-840 of June 24, 2016, art. 1, J.O., No. 0148 (June 26, 2016)). Emergency shelter is not necessarily provided by the same agency that conducts evaluations. In Paris, for example, where the French Red Cross handles reception and evaluation, France Terre d’Asile provides emergency shelter. Each agency provides these functions with the authorization of the Paris departmental council. Human Rights Watch interview with Thierry Couvert Leroy, national delegate, Children and Families, French Red Cross, May 31, 2018.

[28] See Code de l’action sociale et des familles, art. L.226-2-1; art. R.221-11 (. See also InfoMIE, “Dispositifs spécifiques aux mineurs isolés étrangers,” October 22, 2016, http://www.infomie.net/spip.php?rubrique272&lang=fr (accessed April 8, 2018).

[29] Human Rights Watch interview with Thierry Couvert Leroy, May 31, 2018.

[30] Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa H., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[31] Human Rights Watch interview with Catherine Delanoë-Daoud, Paris Bar initiative to address the needs of unaccompanied minors (the Pôle Mineurs Non-Accompagnés), Paris, February 14, 2018.

[32] Code de l’action sociale et des familles, art. R.221-11(II).

[33] See ibid., art. R.221-11(IV).

[34] Arrêté [Order] of November 17, 2016, Implementing Decree No. 2016-840 of June 24, 2016, art. 9.

[35] Ibid.

[36] Code civil, art. 375-1. See generally AutonoMIE and InfoMIE, “Saisir le/la juge des enfants, August 5, 2014, http://www.infomie.net/IMG/pdf/autonomie-guide-fiche2.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018).

[37] See Arrêté du 28 juin 2016 pris en application du décret n° 2016-840 du 24 juin 2016 relatif aux modalités de calcul de la clé de répartition des orientations des mineurs privés temporairement ou définitivement de la protection de leur famille, J.O. No. 0151 (June 30, 2016); Décision du 11 avril 2017 fixant pour l’année 2017 les objectifs de répartition proportionnée des accueils des mineurs privés temporairement ou définitivement de la protection de leur famille, J.O., Texte 39 (April 14, 2017).

[38] See Ministère de la Justice, “Rapport annuel d’activité 2017: Mission mineurs non accompagnés,” March 2018, pp. 9-10.

[39] Eléa Pommier, “Comment sont pris en charge les mineurs isolés étrangers en France?”

[40] Patrick Roger, “Vers un accord sur le financement de l’accueil des mineurs non accompagnés: en première ligne dans l’accueil des jeunes étrangers, les départments ont accepté les propositions du gouvernement,” Le Monde, May 18, 2018, http://www.lemonde.fr/politique/article/2018/05/18/vers-un-accord-sur-le-financement-de-l-accueil-des-mineurs-non-accompagnes_5300987_823448.html (accessed May 22, 2018); Human Rights Watch interview with Corinne Torre, May 25, 2018.

[41] Patrick Roger, “Vers un accord sur le financement de l’accueil des mineurs non accompagnés.”

[42] See Jean-Noël Escudié, “Mineurs non accompagnés: pas d'accord entre gouvernement et départements,” Caisse des Dépôts, March 12, 2018, https://www.caissedesdepotsdesterritoires.fr/cs/ContentServer?pagename=Territoires/Articles/Articles&cid=1250280751119 (accessed April 18, 2018).

[43] See Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03 (February 7, 2017), p. 10. See also Maryline Baumard, “Le gouvernement face au défi de la prise en charge des mineurs étrangers non accompagnés,” Le Monde, March 8, 2018, http://abonnes.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/03/08/le-gouvernement-face-au-defi-de-la-prise-en-charge-des-mineurs-etrangers-non-accompagnes_5267354_3224.html (accessed April 5, 2018).

[44] Code de l’education, art. L.111-1 (“The right to education is guaranteed to everyone in order to enable them to develop their personality, raise their level of initial and ongoing training, to integrate themselves into social and professional life, and to exercise their citizenship.”); Circulaire No. 2012-141 of October 2, 2012, Organisation de la scolarité des élèves allophones nouvellement arrivés, art. 1.2 (“School is a right for all children residing on the national territory, whatever their nationality, migration status, or previous journey”),http://www.education.gouv.fr/pid25535/bulletin_officiel.html?cid_bo=61536 (accessed April 8, 2018).

[45] The French Red Cross conducts age assessments in Paris with the authorization of the president of the departmental council. Examiners at the DEMIE send their reports and conclusions to the president of the council, who formally takes the decision to place a child into the care of the child welfare system (Service de l’aide sociale à l’enfance, ASE). Human Rights Watch interview with Thierry Couvert Leroy, May 31, 2018; Letter from Thierry Couvert Leroy, June 15, 2018.

[46] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahamadou Z., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[47] Human Rights Watch interview with Kodoké C., Paris, May 23, 2018.

[48] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdoulaye D., Paris, March 13, 2018.

[49] Human Rights Watch inteview with Catherine Delanoë-Daoud and Isabelle Roth, heads of the Paris Bar initiative to address the needs of unaccompanied minors (the Pôle Mineurs Non-Accompagnés), Paris, February 14, 2018.

[50] See Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE 2016-183 (July 21, 2016), p. 15. See also Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03, p. 5.

[51] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i).

[52] Human Rights Watch interview with Ibrahim M., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[53] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye S., Paris, February 16, 2018.

[54] Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE-2016-183, p. 6. See also Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03, p. 4.

[55] Human Rights Watch interview with Corinne Torre and Caroline Douay, Médecins sans Frontières, Pantin, February 13, 2018.

[56] Human Rights Watch interview with Thierry Couvert Leroy, May 31, 2018.

[57] Letter from Thierry Couvert Leroy, June 15, 2018.

[58] Arreté du 17 novembre 2016, arts. 2, 4, 9.

[59] Ibid., arts. 6, 9.

[60] Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa H., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[61] Human Rights Watch interview with Azar R., Paris, February 20, 2018.

[62] Human Rights Watch interview with Dalir A., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[63] Human Rights Watch interview with Issa B., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[64] Human Rights Watch interview with Youssouf T., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[65] Human Rights Watch interviews with Sékou D., Paris, May 24, 2018; Damany K., Paris, May 24, 2018.

[66] Human Rights Watch interview with Florian Guélard, Utopia 56, Paris, February 20, 2018.

[67] Human Rights Watch interview with Paris City Hall officials, Paris, February 19, 2018.

[68] Human Rights Watch interview with Souleymane G., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[69] Human Rights Watch interview with Florian Guélard, Utopia 56, Paris, February 20, 2018.

[70] Human Rights Watch interview with Thierry Couvert Leroy, May 31, 2018. The Red Cross official also stated in a written follow-up to our interview, “We never speak of ‘short’ or ‘flash’ interviews: the interviews are conducted with respect for the regulatory framework.” Letter from Thierry Couvert Leroy, June 15, 2018.

[71] Human Rights Watch interviews with Sékou D., Paris, May 24, 2018; Damany K., Paris, May 24, 2018; Agathe Nadimi, Paris, May 24, 2018; Association Timmy, Paris, May 29, 2018.

[72] Arrêté du 17 novembre 2016, art. 3.

[73] Human Rights Watch interview with Joseph D., Paris, February 19, 2018.

[74] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye S., Paris, February 16, 2018.

[75] Letter from Thierry Couvert Leroy, June 15, 2018.

[76] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i); Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and Committee on the Rights of the Child, Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child): State Obligations Regarding the Human Rights of Children in the Context of International Migration in Countries of Origin, Transit, Destination and Return, U.N. Doc. CMW/C/GC/4-CRC/C/GC/23 (November 16, 2017), para. 4.

[77] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[78] Human Rights Watch interview with Kamrul R., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[79] Human Rights Watch interview with Souleymane G., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[80] Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa H., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[81] See generally Human Rights Watch, “Child Labour,” https://www.hrw.org/topic/childrens-rights/child-labor.

[82] DASES Denial Letter, December 21, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch). Other denial letters viewed by Human Rights Watch base negative age assessments in part on similar grounds. See, for example, DASES Denial Letter, January 9, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“The degree of maturity and independence you have shown including by taking the decision on your own to leave your country and organizing your trip to France on your own is incompatible with that of a minor.”); DASES Denial Letter, December 21, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“You have shown considerable independence and maturity by deciding on your own to leave your country and travelling alone.”).

[83] DASES Denial Letter, December 1, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[84] DASES Denial Letter, January 17, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[85] DASES Denial Letter, December 18, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[86] See, for example, DASES Denial Letter, February 7, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“You worked during your migratory journey, which indicates a degree of maturity incompatible with the age declared.”); DASES Denial Letter, February 15, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“You have demonstrated a high level of maturity in working during your migratory journey.”); DASES Denial Letter, February 5, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“The high degree of independence and maturity you have shown during your migration journey by working on your journey is not compatible with the age you report.”); DASES Denial Letter, December 29, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“You have demonstrated independence and maturity by working during your migratory journey and traveling alone.”).

[87] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdoulaye D., Paris, March 13, 2018.

[88] Human Rights Watch interview with Imrane O., Paris, February 16, 2018.

[89] DASES Denial Letter, December 12, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[90] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye S., Paris, February 16, 2018.

[91] DASES Denial Letter, December 21, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch). See also DASES Denial Letter, January 31, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“Your overall bearing, behavior, and mature communication do not match the age you report.”); DASES Denial Letter, January 26, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“Your overall bearing does not correspond with the age you claim.”); DASES Denial Letter, February 17, 2018 (“Your overall bearing and your degree of maturity are inconsistent with the alleged age.”).

[92] See DASES Denial Letter, December 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch); DASES Denial Letter, January 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[93] DASES Denial Letter, January 31, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[94] DASES Denial Letter, January 17, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[95] DASES Denial Letter, September 29, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[96] Ibid.

[97] DASES Denial Letter, October 3, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch). See also DASES Denial Letter, September 26, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (reaching a negative decision based on “inconsistencies” of an account that, as summarized in the letter, is detailed, sequential, and internally consistent).

[98] DASES Denial Letter, December 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[99] Human Rights Watch interview with humanitarian worker (name withheld at his request), Paris, February 20, 2018. See DASES Denial Letter, January 9, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[100] DASES Denial Letter, February 15, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[101] DASES Denial Letter, January 31, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch). Similarly, the denial letter issued to a 16-year-old boy from Côte d’Ivoire stated, “Your [account of your] school journey is not coherent: you should have stopped school in 2015 and not in 2014 as you say.” DASES Denial Letter, February 19, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch). The denial letter issued to a 15-year-old Malian boy included this basis for reaching a negative age assessment: “You claim to have started school at the age of six, in 2007, and stopped in 2013, at the age of 11, but that year you must have been 12 or 13 years old and not 11.” DASES Denial Letter, February 7, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).]

[102] DASES Denial Letter, January 17, 2018 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[103] DASES Denial Letter, September 7, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[104] See, for example, DASES Denial Letter, November 9, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch); DASES Denial Letter, September 14, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[105] Human Rights Watch interview with Thierry Couvert Leroy, May 31, 2018.

[106] Ibid.

[107] Human Rights Watch interview with Association Timmy, May 29, 2018.

[108] Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE 2016-183, p. 9; Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03, p. 5.

[109] Défenseur des droits, Droits de l’enfant en 2017 (Paris: Défenseur des droits, November 2017), p. 37. See also Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE 2016-183, p. 12.

[110] Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE-2014-127 (August 29, 2014), p. 10.

[111] Code civil, art. 47; Order [Arrêté] of November 17, 2016, Implementing Decree No. 2016-840 of June 24, 2016, art. 6(I) (“The evaluator applies the presumption of authenticity of civil status records issued by foreign authorities as provided by the terms of article 47 of the Civil Code.”). See also Serge Durand, coord., L’accueil et la prise en charge des mineurs isolés étrangers en France (Paris: France Terre d’Asile, October 2017), p. 11 (noting that article 47 of the Civil Code includes a presumption of authenticity for documents relating to civil status that are issued by another country).

[112] National identity cards, which do include biometric identifiers, are available only to adults in many of the countries of origin of the children we interviewed. See, for example, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Mali: Requirements and Procedures to Obtain a National Identity Card, a Birth Certificate and a Certificate of Nationality; Characteristics of Each of These Identity Documents, Including Physical Features (2012-February 2015),” March 3, 2015, section 1.1, http://www.refworld.org/docid/550c37d04.html (accessed April 6, 2018). In the Republic of Guinea, national identity cards are technically required for everybody age 15 and over, but only 20 percent of Guinean citizens who required a national identity card had one in 2013, according to an estimate by the company that makes the cards. See Information and Refugee Board of Canada, “Guinea: National Identity Card, Including the Requirements and Procedures to Obtain the Card, Time Frames for Issuing the Card, Characteristics of the Card and Its Lamination Process (2011-2014),” November 25, 2014, section 1, http://www.refworld.org/docid/563c5d054.html (accessed April 6, 2018).

[113] DASES Denial Letter, December 1, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[114] See, for example, Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Mali: Requirements and Procedures to Obtain a National Identity Card, a Birth Certificate and a Certificate of Nationality,” section 2.2; Immigration and Refugee Board of Canada, “Guinea: Requirements and Procedure to Obtain a Birth Certificate Extract, Including from Abroad; Information Indicated on the Document; Incorrect or Fraudulent Birth Certificate Extracts (2009-September 2016), section 3.1, http://www.refworld.org/cgi-bin/texis/vtx/rwmain?docid=5821dfba4 (accessed April 6, 2018); Mirna Adjami, Statelessness and Nationality in Côte d’Ivoire: A Study for UNHCR (Geneva: UNHCR, December 2016), p. 35.

[115] DASES Denial Letter, October 30, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch).

[116] See DASES Denial Letter, September 26, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (excluding a 17-year-old Guinean boy’s birth record extract and judicial authentication from consideration).

[117] See Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE-2014-127, p. 7.

[118] Human Rights Watch interview with Souleymane G., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[119] Human Rights Watch interview with Abdoulaye D., Paris, March 13, 2018.

[120] See DASES Denial Letter, October 19, 2017 (on file with Human Rights Watch) (“The passport is empty of any stamp and shows no visas.”)

[121] See Décision du Défenseur des droits nº MDE 2016-183, p. 10.

[122] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahamadou Z., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[123] Human Rights Watch telephone interview with Catherine Delanoë-Daoud, May 18, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Corinne Torre, May 25, 2018; Human Rights Watch interview with Association Timmy, May 29, 2018. The French Defender of Rights has observed similar variation across France.  See Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03, p. 13.

[124] Human Rights Watch interview with Souleymane G., Paris, March 6, 2018.

[125] Adeline Sire, “Unaccompanied Minors in Paris Face X-Ray Tests and Other Kafkaesque Hurdles to Proving Their Age,” The World, PRI, February 22, 2018, https://www.pri.org/stories/2018-02-22/unaccompanied-minors-paris-face-x-ray-tests-and-other-kafkaesque-hurdles-proving (accessed March 5, 2018).

[126] Comité consultatif national d’éthique pour les sciences de la vie et de la santé, Avis No. 88: Sur les méthodes de détermination de l’âge à des fins juridiques, June 23, 2005, p. 5, http://www.ccne-ethique.fr/sites/default/files/publications/avis088.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018). Similarly, Belgium’s Conseil National de l’Ordre des médecins observed in 2010, “Different factors (ethnic, genetic, endocrine, socio-economic, nutritional, medical ...) can influence the growth of an individual.” Conseil National de l’Ordre des médecins, Séance du 20 février 2010, https://www.ordomedic.be/fr/avis/conseil/tests-de-determination-d-age-des-mineurs-etrangers-non-accompagnes (accessed April 8, 2018), avis maintenu par le Conseil le 14 octobre 2017, https://www.ordomedic.be/fr/avis/conseil/tests-osseux-de-determination-d-age-des-mineurs-etrangers-non-accompagnes-mena (accessed April 8, 2018).

[127] Comité consultatif national d’éthique pour les sciences de la vie et de la santé, Avis No. 88, p. 5.

[128] Académie Nationale de Médecine, “La fiabilité des examens médicaux visant à déterminer l'âge à des fins judiciaires et la possibilité d'amélioration en la matière pour les mineurs étrangers isolés,” January 16, 2007, http://www.infomie.net/IMG/pdf/Rapport_adopte_le_16_janvier_2007.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018). See also Jean-Louis Chaussain, “Académie National de Médecine : rapport au nom d’un groupe de travail émanat de la Commission IX sur la fiabilité des examens médicaux visant à déterminer l’âge à des fins judiciaires et la possibilité d’amélioration en ma matière pour les mineurs étrangers isolés,” Journal du Droits des Jeunes : Revue d’Action Juridique et Sociale, September 2008, http://www.infomie.net/IMG/pdf/Jean-Louis_Chaussain_JDJ_no_277.pdf (accessed April 8, 2018).

[129] Haut Conseil de la Santé Publique, “Avis relatif à l’évaluation de la minorité d’un jeune étranger isolé,” January 23, 2014, para. 7.

[130] Défenseur des Droits, Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03, p. 12; Défenseur des Droits, Rapport du Défenseur des Droits au Comité des Droits de l’Enfant des Nations Unies, February 27, 2015, para. 138, https://juridique.defenseurdesdroits.fr/doc_num.php?explnum_id=16563 (accessed April 8, 2018); Médecins du Monde, Parcours d’un mineur non accompagné à MDM (Paris: Médecins du Monde, 2018), p. 45; Commission Nationale Consultative des Droits de l’Homme, “Avis sur la situation des mineurs isolés étrangers présents sur le territoire nationale,” June 26, 2014, paras. 11-12; Commissioner for Human Rights, Council of Europe, “Methods for Assessing the Age of Migrant Children Must Be Improved,” August 9, 2011, https://www.coe.int/en/web/commissioner/-/methods-for-assessing-the-age-of-migrant-children-must-be-improv-1 (accessed April 8, 2018) ; Committee on the Rights of the Child, Concluding Observations: France, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/FRA/CO/4 (June 22, 2009), paras. 87-88. For a review of European policy and guidance from professional bodies, see Vivien Feltz, Age Assessment for Unaccompanied Minors (Paris: August 2015), https://mdmeuroblog.files.wordpress.com/2014/01/age-determination-def.pdf (accessed April 10, 2018).

[131] European Committee for Home-Based Priority Action for the Child and the Family (EUROCEF) v. France, Decision on Merits, Complaint No. 114/2015 (European Committee of Social Rights January 24, 2018), para. 113.

[132] See Avis du Défenseur des droits nº 17-03 , p. 5.

[133] See Circulaire N° CIV/01/05 prise en application du décret n° 2003-841 du 2 septembre 2003 relatif aux modalités de designation et d’indemnisation des administrateurs ad hoc institués par l’article 17 de la loi n° 2002-305 du 4 mars 2002 relative à l’autorité parentale, Bulletin Officiel du Ministère de la Justice, N° 98 (April 14, 2005), section 2.2.

[134] Human Rights Watch interview with Idrissou M., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[135] Ibid.

[136] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahamadou Z., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[137] Human Rights Watch interview with Moussa H., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[138] Human Rights Watch interview with Mahamadou Z., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[139] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye S., Paris, February 16, 2018.

[140] Alice Lucas and Marta Welander, Still on the Streets: Documenting the Situation for Refugees and Displaced People in Paris, France (London: Refugee Rights Europe, 2018), pp. 9-10.

[141] Human Rights Watch interview with Azad R., Paris, February 20, 2018.

[142] Human Rights Watch interviews with Nawid S., Paris, February 15, 2018; March 6, 2018.

[143] Human Rights Watch interview with Ramatoulaye S., Paris, February 16, 2018.

[144] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.311-1.

[145] Ibid., art. L.313-11(2bis).

[146] Code civil, art. 21-12.

[147] Code de l’entrée et du séjour des étrangers et du droit d’asile, art. L.313-15.

[148] Human Rights Watch interview with Catherine Delanoë-Daoud and Isabelle Roth, February 14, 2018.

[149] Human Rights Watch interview with Faraz S., Paris, May 24, 2018.

[150] Human Rights Watch interview with Mélanie Kerloc’h, psychologist, Médecins sans Frontières, Pantin, February 16, 2018. See also Maryline Baumard, “Au centre pour mineurs de Pantin, ‘on n’imaginait pas l’urgence du suivi psychologique.’” Le Monde, March 8, 2018, www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2018/03/08/au-centre-pour-mineurs-de-pantin-on-n-imaginait-pas-l-urgence-du-suivi-psychologique_5267580_3224.html (accessed April 5, 2018).

[151] Human Rights Watch interview with Issouf Y., Paris, February 17, 2018.

[152] Human Rights Watch interview with Adama B., Paris, February 18, 2018.

[153] Human Rights Watch interview with Mélanie Kerloc’h, February 16, 2018.

[154] Human Rights Watch interview with Nawid S., Paris, February 15, 2018.

[155] Human Rights Watch interview with Mélanie Kerloc’h, February 16, 2018. See also Julia Dumont, “Paris: des associations dénoncent la négligence de l’ASE après le suicide d’un mineur isolé,” InfoMigrants, March 13, 2018, http://www.infomigrants.net/fr/post/8137/paris-des-associations-denoncent-la-negligence-de-l-ase-apres-le-suicide-d-un-mineur-isole (accessed April 18, 2018); Philippe Gangebet, “L’Etoile de Tunis, squat précaire pour les mineurs isolés étrangers à Toulouse,” Le Monde, November 30, 2017 (noting two suicide attempts in November 2017 among unaccompanied children identified by a humanitarian organization in Toulouse, in the south of France), http://www.lemonde.fr/societe/article/2017/11/30/l-etoile-de-tunis-squat-precaire-pour-les-mineurs-isoles-etrangers-a-toulouse_5222619_3224.html (accessed April 5, 2018).

[156] Human Rights Watch interview with Faraz S., Paris, May 23, 2018.

[157] Human Rights Watch interview with Oumar W., Paris, March 12, 2018.

[158] See Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on granting and withdrawing refugee status [Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast)], OJ 2013 L 180/60 (June 29, 2013), superseding Council Directive 2005/85/EC of 1 December 2005, OJ 2005 L 329/11 (December 24, 2005); Directive 2013/33/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on reception conditions for asylum seekers [Reception Conditions Directive], OJ 2013 L180/96 (June 29, 2013), repealing Council Directive 2003/9/EC of 27 January 2003, OJ 2003 L 031 (February 6, 2003).

[159] Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), art. 25(1)(a); Reception Conditions Directive, art. 24(1).

[160] Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union, October 26, 2012, OJ C 326/391.

[161] Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, July 28, 1951, 189 U.N.T.S. 137 (entered into force April 22, 1954).

[162] Convention for the Protection of Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms (European Convention on Human Rights), November 4, 1950, ETS No. 005 (entered into force September 3, 1953).

[163] European Social Charter (Revised), May 3, 1996, ETS No. 163 (entered into force July 1, 1999).

[164]Convention on the Rights of the Child, November 20, 1989, 1577 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force September 2, 1990).

[165] International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), December 19, 1966, 999 U.N.T.S. 171 (entered into force March 23, 1976).

[166] Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), December 18, 1979, 1249 U.N.T.S. 13 (entered into force September 3, 1981).

[167] Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, December 13, 2006, 2515 U.N.T.S. 3 (entered into force May 3, 2008).

[168] Children who are temporarily or permanently deprived of their family environment have the right to special protection and assistance, as provided by article 20(1) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and article 17 (1)(c) of the European Social Charter. More generally, children have the right to “such measures of protection as are required by [their] status.” ICCPR, art. 24(1).

[169] See, for example, Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6: Treatment of Unaccompanied and Separated Children Outside Their Country of Origin, U.N. Doc. CRC/GC/2005/6 (September 1, 2005), para. 31 (assessments to identify children as unaccompanied or separated children “must be conducted in a scientific . . . and fair manner,” among other procedural guarantees); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14 on the Right of the Child to Have His or Her Best Interests Taken as a Primary Consideration, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/14 (May 29, 2013), para. 87 (need for “transparent and objective processes for all decisions made by . . . judges or administrative authorities . . . in areas which directly affect the child”); Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 13: The Right of the Child to Freedom from All Forms of Violence, U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/13 (April 18, 2011), para. 54 (requirement of respect for due process “[a]t all times and in all cases” of judicial involvement to protect children from violence). Similarly, the UN Standard Minimum Rules for the Administration of Juvenile Justice (the Beijing Rules) call on states to extend the principles in the rules, including the principle of a fair hearing conducted “in an atmosphere of understanding,” to juvenile welfare and care proceedings. See Beijing Rules, rules 3.2, 14.1, 14.2, adopted by G.A. Res. 40/33 (November 29, 1985).

[170] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31. See generally Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, paras. 6(c), 14(a) (best interests evaluation as a rule of procedure).

[171] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, paras. 92-98.

[172] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, paras. 66, 64.

[173] Ibid., para. 66.

[174] Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), art. 25(6); Reception Conditions Directive, art. 23(1).

[175] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 19. See also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14.

[176] Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and Committee on the Rights of the Child, Joint General Comment No. 3 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 22 (Committee on the Rights of the Child) on the General Principles Regarding the Human Rights of Children in the Context of International Migration, U.N. Doc. CMW/C/GC/3-CRC/C/GC/22 (November 16, 2017), para. 30.

[177] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 20. See also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, paras. 94-95.

[178] See Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), art. 25(1)(a); Reception Conditions Directive, art. 24(1).

[179] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 21. See also Joint General Comment No. 3 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 22 (Committee on the Rights of the Child, paras. 32(h), 36.

[180] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 21.

[181] Ibid., paras. 21, 33-34, 36; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, para. 96; Joint General Comment No. 3 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 22 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 36; UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, U.N. Doc. HCR/GIP/09/08 (December 22, 2009), para. 69.

[182] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 69.

[183] Ibid.

[184] Committee on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families and Committee on the Rights of the Child, Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child) on State Obligations Regarding the Human Rights of Children in the Context of International Migration in Countries of Origin, Transit, Destination and Return, U.N. Doc. CMW/C/GC/4-CRC/C/GC/23 (November 16, 2017), para. 17(f); UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 69.

[185] International Committee of the Red Cross, Inter-Agency Guiding Principles on Separated and Unaccompanied Children, January 2004, p. 61. See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 17(i).

[186] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 25; Joint General Comment No. 3 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 22 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 36; Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 17(d).

[187] Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), art. 25(5).

[188] See European Council on Refugees and Exiles (ECRE), Information Note on Directive 2013/32/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 26 June 2013 on common procedures for granting and withdrawing international protection (recast), December 2014, p.32, https://www.ecre.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/ECRE-Information-Note-on... (accessed June 4, 2018).

[189] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i); UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 75; UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, February 1997, para. 5.11.

[190] UNHCR, Observations on the Use of Age Assessments in the Identification of Separated or Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, Case No. CIK-1938/2014 (Lithuanian Supreme Court), June 1, 2015, para. 9(ix).

[191] Separated Children in Europe Programme, Statement of Good Practice (Copenhagen: Save the Children, UNHCR, and UNICEF, 4th rev. ed. 2009), section D.5.1.

[192] Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[193] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[194] UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 5.11(c).

[195] UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 72.

[196] UNHCR, Observations on the Use of Age Assessments in the Identification of Separated or Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 9(xi). See also Separated Children in Europe Programme, Position Paper on Age Assessment in the Context of Separated Children in Europe, 2012, p. 15, http://www.refworld.org/docid/4ff535f52.html (accessed May 1, 2018).

[197] UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 72.

[198] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 75. See also ibid., paras. 95-97; Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[199] Separated Children in Europe Programme, Statement of Good Practice, Part B10.

[200] See Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), art. 25(5).

[201] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 31(i). See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[202] UNHCR, Guidelines on International Protection: Child Asylum Claims, para. 75. Accord UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 5.11; UNHCR, Observations on the Use of Age Assessment in the Identification of Separated or Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, Case No. CIK-1938/2014, para. 9(ii).

[203] UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in Dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 5.11(c).

[204] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 14, para. 93.

[205] Ibid., para. 97.

[206] See Separated Children in Europe Programme, Position Paper on Age Assessment in the Context of Separated Children in Europe, p. 13.

[207] See Asylum Procedures Directive (Recast), arts. 25(5), 25(5)(b).

[208] European Committee for Home-Based Priority Action for the Child and the Family (EUROCEF) v. France, Decision on Merits, Complaint No. 114/2015 (European Committee of Social Rights January 24, 2018), para. 113.

[209] UNHCR, Guidelines on Policies and Procedures in dealing with Unaccompanied Children Seeking Asylum, para. 5.11(b).

[210] See, for example, Terry Smith and Laura Brownlees, “Age Assessment Practices: A Literature Review and Annotated Bibliography,” Discussion Paper (New York: UNICEF, 2011), https://www.unicef.org/protection/Age_Assessment_Practices_2010.pdf (accessed May 1, 2018).

[211] Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 4.

[212] Separated Children in Europe Programme, “Position Paper on Age Assessment in the Context of Separated Children in Europe,” May 2012, p.11, http://www.scepnetwork.org/images/16/163.pdf (accessed April 10, 2018).

[213] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 20(1); European Social Charter, art. 17(1)(c). See also Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 11.

[214] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 21 on Children in Street Situations U.N. Doc. CRC/C/GC/21 (June 21, 2017), para. 44; see also Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 13, paras. 33, 35.

[215] Defence for Children International (DCI) v. the Netherlands, Complaint No. 47/2008, Merits, (European Committee of Social Rights October 20, 2009).

[216] Rahimi v. Greece, App. No. 8687/08, Judgement of April 5, 2011 (European Court of Human Rights), para. 95.

[217] See Defence for Children International v. the Netherlands. See also European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights and Council of Europe, Handbook on European Law Relating to Asylum, Borders and Immigration (Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2015).

[218] See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 21, para. 44.

[219] Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 3(2), 20(2).

[220] See Ibid., art. 6; Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 21, para. 29 (citing Villagrán Morales et al v. Guatemala, Inter-American Court of Human Rights, November 19, 1999).

[221] Convention on the Rights of the Child, art. 19. See Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 23.

[222] Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 21, para. 34; Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 3: The Nature of States Parties’ Obligations, U.N. Doc. E/1991/23 (December 14, 1990), para. 10.

[223] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13: The Right to Education, UN Doc. E/C.12/1999/10 (December 8, 1990), para. 1.

[224] Convention on the Rights of the Child, arts. 28(1)(1)(a), (b), (d); International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, December 16, 1966, 993 U.N.T.S. 3, arts. 13(2)(a), (b).

[225] Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, General Comment No. 13, para. 34.

[226] Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination, General Recommendation XXX: Discrimination against Non-Citizens, UN Doc. CERD/C/Misc.11/rev.3 (February 23-March 12, 2004), paras. 29-30. The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination issues authoritative guidance on the binding content of the obligations set forth in the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, December 21, 1965, 660 U.N.T.S. 195 (entered into force January 4, 1969).

[227] Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 59.

[228] “Every unaccompanied and separated child, irrespective of status, shall have full access to education in the country that they have entered in line with articles 28, 29 (1) (c), 30 and 32 of the Convention and the general principles developed by the Committee.” Committee on the Rights of the Child, General Comment No. 6, para. 41.

[229] Joint General Comment No. 4 (Committee on the Rights of Migrant Workers) and No. 23 (Committee on the Rights of the Child), para. 60.

 

Author: Human Rights Watch, Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

Child protection authorities in Paris are using flawed age assessment procedures for unaccompanied migrant youths, excluding many from care they need and are entitled to. Hundreds of unaccompanied children sleep on the streets of Paris each night, according to estimates from lawyers and nongovernmental organizations.

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

A man with disabilities looks out through the bars of a psychiatric ward in an institution in Rio de Janeiro. Persons locked in this section of the institution never left their rooms, according to staff.

© 2016 Human Rights Watch

We arrived at the institution for people with disabilities on a day in November 2016. The door had heavy locks. Once inside, in the back of a room full of beds, we saw a woman waiving us closer. She had cerebral palsy and could not communicate verbally, but she was radiant and smiling, apparently happy to meet someone from the outside world. The woman, Luciene, handed me a book titled Scent of a Lifetime.

The book was her own story of spending 40 years in an institution. It was a story of expectations and emotions, of intense joy and deep reflections. Literally the scent of a lifetime. Luciene, the daughter of a domestic worker, was left in the care of a neighbor when she was 5 while her mother worked. The neighbor often got angry because Luciene couldn’t communicate when she had to use the toilet and regularly wet her clothes. When Luciene was 9, her mother took her to an institution.

Luciene’s case is not unique. According to 2017 official data from the social assistance service, 5,078 children and 5,037 adults with disabilities were living in institutions, not including older people that might also have disabilities and who live in nursing homes.

“Why should I have to live in an institution?” “Why can’t I live with my mother who is the most precious being for me?” “Why can’t I go to a school and study like other children?” She asked herself during the first months living there. Later, she was able to go to a school next to the institution. “What a wonderful sensation to be able to learn,” she wrote.

She met other children, some of them with disabilities. But friends disappeared, transferred to other institutions. It was as if they had suddenly passed away. When she was sad, she would remind herself that she was lucky because some children in the institution were imprisoned in their beds, not allowed to go to school.

Going to school gave her, she said, the feeling of being normal. But one day, without explanation, the institution staff told her that she would no longer attend school.  They tried to comfort her, telling her that she could visit her friends.  But no one would take her to the school for the promised visits. Institutions can create the feeling of not “being normal” -- the social construction of dependency.

At one point, with the help of her mother’s friends, Luciene was able to move back with her mother. That was a period of great joy for them, but it didn’t last long. When Luciene’s mother turned 82, she was no longer able to support her daughter. Returning to the institution was the only option. There were no community agencies or services to support Luciene to live independently.

My recent research in Brazil found that institution staff and managers aren’t to blame. The problem is a broken system that doesn’t allow people with disabilities to live independently, in the community with opportunities for education, employment and health care equal to everyone else.  Thousands end up like Luciene, stuck in institutions, often for their entire lives.

Most of these locked institutions, known as “homes” or shelters for people with disabilities house  32 to 50 people  in wards  crammed with beds or cribs with high bars. Some people were tied to these bars. They don’t have the look of a “home,” despite the name at the entrance.

No one should be forced into a particular living arrangement. People with disabilities should not be locked away from society.  The right to live independently is the path to realize many other fundamental rights: to privacy, to marry, to have a family, to participate in cultural, and political life.

All levels of the Brazil government should develop comprehensive policies to phase out  institutions and create conditions for people with disabilities to choose where and with whom to live. The governments should develop in-home residential and other community support services, including personal assistance. Authorities should also strengthen and expand foster care and adoption for children with disabilities. Involvement by nongovernmental groups, including current institution managers and organizations of people with disabilities, is essential.

Luciene’s story shows us that Brazil has a structural problem that hinders the right of children to live with a family and of people with disabilities to live in the community. Brazil needs national policies that ensure people with disabilities’ right to have a home.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

UN peacekeepers from Pakistan using a school building in Central African Republic as their base.  The forces left the school in January 2017 after HRW informed UN authorities

© 2017 Edouard Dropsy for Human Rights Watch

First the bad news: the United Nations secretary-general’s annual report on children and armed conflict found a 35 percent increase in violence against children compared to the year before. But there’s good news too: incidents of armed groups – be they government forces or rebel groups – using schools for military purposes are down 14 percent from the previous year, with 188 schools affected.

That’s important for students who have safer schools to learn in, and raises hopes that new generations will be equipped with the knowledge and skills necessary to rebuild their countries after years of war.

Stopping fighters from turning schools into barracks and bunkers is gaining increasing attention since the development of the 2015 Safe Schools Declaration, an agreement through which countries commit to take common-sense steps to refrain from using schools for military purposes.

Globally, incidents of military use of schools – as verified by the UN – have fallen by almost a third since 2014. But in countries that have endorsed the declaration, there’s been an even greater drop in reported incidents – 50 percent down since 2014. This downward trend is particularly encouraging because it coincides with improved monitoring of the phenomenon, something that often – initially at least – makes it appear as if violations are increasing.

At the same time, in countries that have not endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration, there’s been a 97 percent rise in the reported incidents of military use of schools since 2014.

Looking specifically at government forces of countries that have joined the declaration, their use of schools has fallen by almost 20 percent since 2015, with the steepest drop reported in Afghanistan.

By contrast, there’s been a 14 percent uptick in the use of schools by the forces of governments that have not endorsed it.

Disappointingly, there was an increase over the last year in reports of the military use of schools in three countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration: Nigeria, Sudan, and South Sudan. But both Nigeria and Sudan have recently taken steps to reassess their policies. South Sudan should start holding soldiers to account who don’t abide by existing military orders.

So far, 75 countries have joined the Safe Schools Declaration. The countries detailed in the UN report that have not endorsed – Burma, Colombia, India, Iraq, Israel, Libya, Pakistan, Philippines, Syria, and Thailand – should join next.

Author: Human Rights Watch
Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am

This submission focuses on the topic of girls’ rights to access safe abortion and the protection of students, teachers, and schools during time of armed conflict. It proposes issues and questions that Committee members may wish to raise with the government. 

Access to Abortion (Articles 2, 6, 14, 16, 24, 37)

El Salvador is one of six countries in Latin American and the Caribbean with a total ban on abortion in all circumstances, meaning that abortion is criminalized even when the life or health of the pregnant woman or girl is in danger, when the pregnancy resulted from rape or incest, or when the fetus will not survive outside the womb.

Human Rights Watch is deeply concerned about the impacts of the criminalization of abortion on adolescent girls in El Salvador. Under restrictive criminal laws, girls facing unplanned, unwanted, or crisis pregnancies are forced to risk their health and lives, and possible criminal prosecution, to seek clandestine abortions, or continue with unwanted pregnancies against their wishes.

Under the criminal code, women and girls who have abortions, and the medical providers who assist them, can face severe prison sentences. Salvadoran authorities have harshly punished some women who have suffered stillbirths or miscarriages or other obstetric emergencies in the later stages of their pregnancies, charging them with aggravated homicide and sentencing them to 30 years or more in prison.

In his November 2017 statement to El Salvador, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, recommended to President Sánchez Cerén that El Salvador “should comply with its international human rights obligations and lift the absolute prohibition on abortion.”[i]

In late April, however, El Salvador’s Legislative Assembly did not consider proposals to ease the total abortion ban. Human Rights Watch was disappointed that Salvadoran authorities failed to decriminalize abortion in the last legislative cycle, and the country continues to operate with a criminal code that violates women’s human rights and contributes to public health crises.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee ask El Salvador to:

  • Provide data on abortion-related morbidity and mortality among women and girls, including deaths from induced abortion, and hospitalizations for abortion-related complications; as well as data on arrests and prosecutions for abortion-related charges, and the details of those cases;
  • Provide data or information from public health officials about maternal deaths or morbidity resulting from the denial of abortion services to women or girls whose life or health were endangered, and the details of those cases;
  • Pardon and release all women who remain in prison for abortion-related offenses or for obstetric emergencies that led to fetal or infant death;
  • Decriminalize abortion in all circumstances and take all necessary steps, both immediate and incremental, to ensure that girls have informed and free access to safe and legal abortion services, and post-abortion care, as an element of the exercise of their reproductive and other human rights.

Protecting Students, Teachers, and Schools During Armed Conflict (Articles 28, 38, 39)

In November 2017, El Salvador became the 71st country to endorse the Safe Schools Declaration and thereby commit to using the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict as a practical tool to guide their behavior during military operations.

Human Rights Watch recommends that the Committee:

  • Commend El Salvador for its endorsement of the Safe Schools Declaration and the Guidelines for Protecting Schools and Universities from Military Use during Armed Conflict;
  • Encourage El Salvador to continue to develop and share examples of its implementation of the Declaration’s commitments with other countries that have endorsed the Safe Schools Declaration and with the Committee as examples of good practice in protecting students, teachers, and schools during armed conflict. 

[i] UNHCR, “Statement by UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein at the end of his mission to El Salvador,” November 2017, https://www.ohchr.org/en/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=22412&... (accessed June 29, 2018).

Posted: January 1, 1970, 12:00 am